President Donald Trump used the powerful setting of the Oval Office to deliver his first primetime TV address calling on members of Congress – particularly Democrats – to fund a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Democrats countered that the federal government could be reopened while a debate over border funding continues.
“This is a humanitarian crisis of the heart and a crisis of the soul,” Trump said in his remarks to the nation.
He said that illegal immigrants crossing the southern border were taking jobs from African-Americans and Latino-Americans; increasing crime from gang activity; proliferating drugs throughout America; and hurting women and children through sex trafficking.
“This is a tragic reality of illegal immigration on our southern border,” the president said.
Trump campaigned in 2016, and has repeatedly declared, that Mexico would pay for a border wall. On Tuesday night in the Oval Office speech he said that Mexico would “indirectly” pay for the wall through a new trade deal that replaced NAFTA and through a curtailment of illegal drug activity, if a wall is erected.
Claiming Democrats are to blame for the government shutdown because they “will not fund border security,” Trump said he has given in to their demands by reducing the wall from a concrete physical barrier to a steel fence.
Trump closed his Oval Office address by citing a litany of violent crimes he claims were carried out by different illegal aliens.
“This is a choice between right and wrong, justice and injustice,” he said.
In a response to the President’s speech, the two leaders of the Democrats in Congress — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York — stood side-by-side and said the President was solely to blame for the shutdown and crisis on the Mexican border.
“The President is sadly full of misinformation and malice,” Pelosi said. “The President has chosen fear. We want to start with facts.”
She called Trump’s policy “cruel and counterproductive” and accused the president of holding Americans hostage.
“It’s an expensive and ineffective wall, a wall he always promised Mexico would pay for,” Pelosi said.
Schumer also accused the president of appealing “to fear, not facts; division, not unity.”
He blasted Trump for governing by “temper tantrum” and called on the president to “separate the shutdown from the argument over border security.”
Schumer and Democrats in both chambers have proposed passing spending bills, which he claimed were bipartisan, to reopen the federal government, while having a separate debate over the border security issue and funding.
He said Americans, particularly federal employees, were about to miss another paycheck, falter on mortgage payments, and lose opportunities for agricultural or small business loans.
“The President just used the backdrop of the Oval Office to manufacture a crisis, stoke fear and divert attention from the turmoil in his administration,” Schumer said. “The symbol of America should be the Statue of Liberty, not a 30-foot wall.”
He ended with a call for Trump to “end this shutdown now.”
CLOSE, BUT NOT CLOSED
Twice during the Trump administration, Republicans and Democrats have been close to an immigration agreement with funding for a wall on the southern border of the U.S.
In February 2018, Democrats agreed to $25 billion in spending for a wall and border security in exchange for a path to citizenship for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients. President Trump initially agreed to the deal in a televised bipartisan meeting, but later backed out of the agreement.
In December 2018, Congressional Republicans and Democrats agreed to $1.6 billion in wall funding as part of a series of measures to fund federal government agencies. The measure cleared the U.S. Senate 100-0 on a unanimous consent vote. Trump balked at the deal, after reportedly privately backing it, before House leaders could take up the spending bills.
Instead, a $5.7 billion border wall funding bill was pushed by House GOP leadership, but the 60 votes needed for passage in the Senate did not exist with Republicans only controlling 51 votes at time. The resulting impasse led to the current federal government shutdown, now in its 17th day.
ARKANSAS GOP BACKS TRUMP POSITION
Arkansas’ GOP elected officials overwhelmingly supported the President’s Oval Office speech and request for action, but the leader of the Democrats pushed back.
Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., tweeted, “I share @POTUS’ concern about the escalating #BorderCrisis. National security is the federal government’s #1 responsibility & increasing resources for #border protection must accurately reflect this obligation. We can do this if everyone comes to the table.”
U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, said, “Tonight, the President restated what we already know — we have a looming crisis at our southern border and a majority leadership in the House unwilling to address this serious issue. Again, the President has opened the door to Congressional leadership in both chambers to quickly resolve this impasse.
“The responses by both Minority Leader Schumer and Speaker Pelosi to the President’s offer illustrates a stark contrast in their priorities indicating a willingness to place open borders and sanctuary cities above the safety and security of the American people. I sincerely hope that Speaker Pelosi and Minority Leader Schumer will take him up on his offer and earnestly seek a solution to address this national security imperative as quickly as possible,” he said.
U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock, said, “Whether or not Democrats want to acknowledge the facts, the reality is that we have an unsustainable security crisis at our southwest border. I’ve visited the border numerous times and seen with my own eyes the devastating human cost of having a porous border. Security experts agree that cracking down on illegal immigration, the drug trade, and human trafficking requires more miles of physical border barrier, enhanced technology, and personnel.
“Republicans are ready and willing to come to the table and negotiate in good faith with our Democratic colleagues. If we put the safety of the American people before political gamesmanship, I’m confident that we can find a practical solution that will save lives and end the partial government shutdown,” Hill said.
U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, issued a statement saying, “The United States is facing both a humanitarian and national security crisis on our southern border, and President Trump is responsibly pressing Democrats for resources to address border security. It is neither immoral nor wasteful – it’s a constitutional imperative. Just a few days removed from taking an oath to our Constitution, I stand with the President in supporting the safety and security of our nation.”
U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, offered comments ahead of the President’s primetime address.
“… [W]e have to ask ourselves, ‘How did we get into this situation?’ Why is it necessary for the president to go on national TV and talk about this issue? The answer is quite simply because Congress hasn’t acted. In 2018 alone, enough fentanyl was brought into the country to wipe out the entire U.S. population. Ten thousand children are brought across the border every year to be sold into sex trafficking. These are crises, and President Trump recognizes that. I’ve been to the border, and I know that we need to do things to make it more secure. If we combine all the resources that we have, we can secure the border and stop the illegal crossings,” he said.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson, R-Ark., did not endorse or refute the president’s address, but he tweeted about the Pelosi-Schumer response. “The Democratic response was not persuasive for those who are concerned about the humanitarian crisis at our border.”
Senator Tom Cotton, R-Ark., did not immediately offer comment on the President’s speech.
Democratic Party of Arkansas chairman Michael John Gray contended that the debate was basically unchanged after the speeches.
“What we saw on national television didn’t amount to much. After all the talk, our government will still be closed and federal workers aren’t any closer to getting a paycheck. Everything from Farm Service Agency offices to domestic violence shelters are closing down because of the shutdown. Arkansans want the border secure and our immigration system simplified, but closing down our government isn’t the way to do it,” he said.