In his first Oval Office speech Wednesday, US President Donald Trump urged Americans to support his demands for billions of dollars from Congress for his long-promised border wall.
In his much-anticipated speech that lasted only a few minutes, Trump cited incidents of Americans allegedly killed by immigrants to back his demands for the wall to end the “growing humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border”.
Trump had also been discussing the idea of declaring a national emergency to allow him to move forward with the wall without getting congressional approval for the $5.7 billion he’s requested, but the declaration was not made in the speech.
Calling the immigration matter “a crisis of the heart and soul”, Trump said the US is “out of space” to accommodate illegal migrants, adding that it “strains public resources and drives down jobs” that “hurt all Americans.” Trump plans a personal visit to the Mexican border on Thursday as he tries to put pressure on newly empowered Democrats in the shutdown standoff.
As the government shutdown enters its 18th day, Trump has refused to back down on his demands of approval of $5.7 billion to fund the steel wall on the southern border, a request denied by the Democrats.
The partial government shutdown is making the closure the second-longest in history. Hundreds of thousands of federal workers are going without pay, and government disruptions are hitting home with everyday Americans. But Trump has not budged on his demands for $5.7 billion in wall funding, and Democrats have not moved from their opposition, while many Republicans watch anxiously from the sidelines. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have strongly opposed the wall and have repeatedly called on Trump to reopen shuttered portions of the government while border negotiations continue.
Leaning on Senate Republicans, Pelosi said the House would begin passing individual bills this week to reopen shuttered federal agencies, starting with the Treasury Department to ensure Americans receive their tax refunds.
In a pre-emptive move, the White House said Monday that tax refunds would be paid despite the shutdown. That shutdown exemption would break from past practice and could be challenged.
There is no excuse for hurting millions of Americans over a policy difference. Federal workers are about to miss a paycheck. Some families can’t get a mortgage to buy a new home. Farmers and small businesses won’t get loans they need. #TrumpShutdown pic.twitter.com/Abke9qAtjH
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) January 9, 2019
With his use of a formal White House speech instead of his favored Twitter blasts, Trump is embracing the ceremonial trappings of his office as he tries to exit a political quagmire of his own making. For weeks he has dug in on a signature campaign promise to his base voters, the pledge to build an impregnable “beautiful” wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. But now his self-proclaimed deal-making skills are being put to the test.
The White House had requested eight minutes to make Trump’s case on television. It invited representatives from cable news outlets to a White House lunch with Trump ahead of the address, a gesture that is typically reserved for the lead-up to State of the Union speeches.
In recent days, Trump, who has long railed against illegal immigration at the border, has also seized on humanitarian concerns to argue there is a broader crisis that can only be solved with a wall. Critics say the security risks are overblown and the administration is at least partly to blame for the humanitarian situation.
The number of illegal border crossings is down from 1.6 million in 2000 to less than 400,000 last year. But the number of families coming over the border has risen sharply, putting a strain on health care and immigration services that came into sharp focus with the deaths of two migrant children. Some say Trump’s hardline policies are slowing processing for migrants, creating an overwhelming bottleneck at the border.
After meeting with Democrats over the weekend, the White House issued a series of budget demands, including a new request for $800,000 for humanitarian needs. But mostly Trump still wants his wall, which Democrats describe as immoral as well as no solution to illegal immigration.
With Trump heading to the border on Thursday, few saw a speedy path to resolution for the partial shutdown, which has furloughed 380,000 federal workers and forced an additional 420,000 to work without pay. Federal workers still on the job apparently will miss this week’s paychecks.
Trump has said he can relate to the plight of the federal workers who aren’t getting paid, though he acknowledged they will have to “make adjustments.”
(Inputs from AP)