President Donald Trump addressed the nation on the weeks-long government shutdown and the importance of border security.
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump has run into a wall. It’s the new Democratic House.
In the first Oval Office address of his presidency, Trump argued Tuesday night that a dire security and humanitarian crisis at the Mexican border has made it imperative for Congress to approve his immigration proposal, including allocating $5.7 billion for a wall he says will block illegal immigration and illicit drugs.
“How much more American blood must we shed before Congress does its job?” the president said in a blunt appeal to congressional Democrats after detailing horrific murders allegedly committed by illegal immigrants in California, Georgia and Maryland. “To those who refused to compromise in the name of border security, I would ask, imagine if it was your child, your husband or your wife whose life was so cruelly shattered and totally broken.”
Trump has always been most comfortable speaking at unscripted campaign-style rallies where he draws from the energy of a raucous crowd. This time, sitting at the historic Resolute desk and reading from a teleprompter, he was somber and a little stiff at first, then spoke in darker and more emotional tones, though he didn’t deliver on his threat to declare the situation at the southern border a national emergency.
The president’s unyielding demand for funds to build a wall, the signature promise of his 2016 presidential campaign, has smashed into the flat rejection of that idea by congressional Democrats. That battle, the knot at the center of the partial government shutdown, looms as the first test of wills in the nation’s new divided government.
Trump’s 10-minute speech, which included several statements labeled as untrue or misleading by fact-checkers, was immediately followed by joint remarks by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, also carried on prime time by the major television networks. Pelosi decried the president’s remarks as “full of misinformation and even malice.” Standing side-by-side with Schumer at a single podium, six American flags behind them, she accused Trump of using the shutdown to hold “the American people hostage.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said President Donald Trump “must stop holding American people hostage.”
Both sides tried to convince voters that they were the reasonable ones and the other side the obstructionists, though neither volunteered the sort of gesture that might clear a path toward a compromise. Congressional Republicans also hadn’t delivered money for Trump’s wall when they were in charge over the past two years, and the shutdown began on their watch. But they didn’t openly defy him on that issue, or most others.
The Democrats were all defiance, and surely not for the last time. Schumer accused Trump of trying to “govern by temper tantrum.”
One week after the 116th Congress was sworn in, any doubts that Trump may have had about how much different his tenure was going to be without unified Republican control of Congress should have disappeared into the cold winter sky.
The empowered Democratic opposition in the House now has the power not only to protest but also to pass legislation – measures designed to portray them as reasonable and the president as recalcitrant. The House has scheduled a series of votes through the rest of the week to fund individual agencies, forcing Republicans to either break with the White House or to cast votes against financing food stamps and the Internal Revenue Service, which by the way could be sending out tax refunds now.
The White House, clearly concerned about restive Republicans, dispatched Vice President Mike Pence and others to Capitol Hill Tuesday to make their case and urge partisan unity.
So far, Trump is bearing the brunt of the blame for a shutdown that is taking an increasingly serious toll among federal workers, at national parks and elsewhere. A nationwide Reuters/Ipsos Poll released Tuesday found Americans increasingly blaming Trump for the shutdown that has closed down about a fourth of the federal government and cost about 800,000 federal workers their paychecks, at least for now.
In the survey, conducted Jan. 1-7, a 51 percent majority said the president “deserves most of the blame” for the shutdown, up four percentage points from two weeks earlier. About a third, 32 percent, blame congressional Democrats.
And the wall?
Just a third of those surveyed support a spending bill that includes funding for the wall, though Republicans overwhelmingly support the idea of a wall, and a majority back shutting down the government until Congress funds it.
Left unmentioned on Tuesday night were dramatic news developments during the hours leading up to Trump’s speech that were a reminder that the shutdown and the wall aren’t the only crises brewing for the White House, and perhaps not even the most serious ones. First, Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who held a controversial meeting with Trump campaign officials at Trump Tower in June 2016, was charged with obstruction of justice in a separate case that demonstrated her close ties with the Kremlin.
Then, a court filing that was unsealed Tuesday inadvertently disclosed that Paul Manafort, at one time Trump’s campaign manager, shared campaign polling with an associate with ties to Russian intelligence. Both stories underscore the possibility of collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow, something Trump has repeatedly and vehemently denied.
Meanwhile, the partial government shutdown hits its 19th day Wednesday, closing in on the longest shutdown on record, which happened in a confrontation between President Bill Clinton and a new Republican-controlled House. On Wednesday, congressional leaders from both parties are scheduled to meet at the White House to resume negotiations, and Trump has scheduled a trip to the border on Thursday.
“The only solution is for Democrats to pass the spending bill that defends our borders and reopens the government,” Trump declared, calling the two issues inextricably linked.
Schumer demanded that they be untied. “Mr. President, reopen the government and we can work to resolve our differences over border security,” he said.
Just after midnight Saturday, at Day 22, the shutdown would become be the longest in U.S. history. After Tuesday’s standoff, setting that new record seemed to be a safe bet.
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