In his 10-minute television speech on Tuesday night, January 8th, President Donald Trump called migrant flows to the US southern border a “humanitarian and security crisis,” making the case to the American public for more than $5 billion in funding for a steel wall to curb unauthorised immigration.
Addressing Americans from the Oval Office, Trump at times offered a somewhat softer justification for his border wall demands in a bid to spur Democratic defections. He decried the "cycle of human suffering" produced by illegal border crossings, hurting African-Americans, Latinos, women and children.
Trump urged congressional Democrats to fund his long-promised border wall, blaming illegal immigration for what he called a scourge of drugs and violence in the US and framing the debate over the partial government shutdown in stark terms.
“This is a choice between right and wrong,” he declared.
Trump, who will visit the Mexican border in person on Thursday, invited the Democrats to return to the White House to meet with him on Wednesday, saying it was “immoral” for “politicians to do nothing.” He claimed they could resolve the standoff in “45 minutes,” but previous meetings have led to no agreement as Trump insists on the wall that was his signature promise in the 2016 presidential campaign.
He used emotional language, referring to Americans who were killed by people in the country illegally, saying: “I’ve met with dozens of families whose loved ones were stolen by illegal immigration. I’ve held the hands of the weeping mothers and embraced the grief-stricken fathers. So sad. So terrible.”
Shifting between empathetic appeals and the dark immigration rhetoric that was a trademark of his presidential campaign, Trump asked: “How much more American blood must we shed before Congress does its job?”
Responding in their own televised remarks, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer accused Trump of misrepresenting the situation on the border as they urged him to reopen closed government departments and authorise pay cheques for hundreds of thousands of workers.
Pelosi accused Trump of "holding the American people hostage, while senator Chuck Schumer accused Trump of governing "by temper tantrum" and using government workers "for leverage."
Schumer said Trump “just used the backdrop of the Oval Office to manufacture a crisis, stoke fear and divert attention from the turmoil in his administration.”
Overall, the president announced no new policies and made no new substantive arguments. Neither did Democratic Congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi and Charles Schumer when they followed his remarks with their own.
His address failed to ease the tension with the Democratic leaders, as he tried to make the case for his signature domestic policy idea, but made no concessions to opposition Democrats, who have rejected funding for the project.
The impasse has left 800,000 federal employees without pay, and the partial shutdown that started on December 22nd is now approaching the longest on record.
"We MUST fix our Southern Border!" Trump tweeted Wednesday morning, ahead of planned meetings with lawmakers later in the day. Experts say Trump has been discussing the idea of declaring a national emergency to allow him to move forward with the wall without getting congressional approval for the billions he has requested. But he did not mention that on Tuesday night.
There were few signs of a breakthrough ahead of the talks Trump was due to have with congressional leaders on Wednesday afternoon, with his options running out for ending a prolonged partial government shutdown over the impasse.