Donald Trump tries to seize the initiative on the Trump Shutdown of the Federal Government over his demand for a Wall with Mexico — but the televised speech offers no proposals, merely repeating distortions and hyperbole about immigration.
In the first Oval Office address of his Presidency, Trump delivered a statement written by his hardline anti-immigration advisor Stephen Miller. It came on the 18th day of the shutdown, caused by Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion for the $25 billion Wall.
The sudden announcement on Monday of a Trump speech, as well as a Thursday visit to the US-Mexico border, and statements by White House officials fed the prospect that Trump would declare a national emergency to obtain funds for his concrete-now-steel barrier.
But there was no proposal at all in the nine-minute speech. Instead, Trump issued a series of misleading statements declaring a crisis of crime and drugs from migration.
He reissued his unsupported declaration of “thousands” of murders by migrants as he pronounced a “humanitarian crisis”, ultimately not for the migrants but for “Americans”: “How much more American blood must we shed before Congress does its job?”
Trump falsely said migrant crossings have increased — they have been declining for nearly two decades — and misrepresented the issue of illegal drugs: the majority of heroin enters the US through legal ports of entry, rather than through open areas of the border.
Trump did refrain from repeating the lie, put out as recently as Sunday by his White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, that thousands of terrorists have crossed into the US from Mexico.
But he lied, “At the request of Democrats, it will be a steel barrier rather than a concrete wall.” Democrat legislators have made clear that they oppose any funding of a solid Wall, whatever the material, along almost 2,000 miles between the US and Mexico.
And — having told Democrat legislators on December 11, “I am proud to shut down the Government for border security” — Trump delivered the script last night that the shutdown is “for one reason only because Democrats will not fund border security”.
In fact, the House of Representatives, now controlled by Democrats, passed a continuing resolution last Thursday to reopen the Government and return almost 800,000 employees to paid work. That resolution includes $1.3 billion for border security.
But the measure — similar to a unanimously-adopted Senate resolution rejected by Trump just before the Administration — has been blocked from Senate consideration by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
At the start of January, Vice President Mike Pence put a proposal of a resolution with $2.5 billion for border security with an unspecified amount for the Wall to Republican and Democrat Congressional staff. But Trump — who has not spent 94% of additional border security money already allocated by Congress — withdrew the initiative, insisting on the full $5.7 billion of Wall funding.
A Message of Fear, an Uncertain Trump
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in their televised response that Trump was whipping up fear.
“President Trump must stop holding the American people hostage, must stop manufacturing a crisis and must reopen the Government,” Pelosi said.
Schumer summarized, “The symbol of America should be the Statue of Liberty, not a 30-foot wall.”
But Trump’s tough talk masked his uncertainty. In an off-the-record lunch with TV anchors, he said he did want to deliver the speech or to go to Texas, but was pressed by advisors, “according to two people briefed on the discussion“.
“It’s not going to change a damn thing, but I’m still doing it,” Trump said of the border visit.
He gestured to his communications staff, Bill Shine, Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Kellyanne Conway, “But these people behind you say it’s worth it.”
So ahead of his speech tonight, the Trump campaign is airing a pretty racist ad fearmongering about "drugs, terrorists, violent criminals and child traffickers entering our country." Then straight up blames Chuck Schumer and Pelosi for "Drug deaths. Violent murder. Gang violence" pic.twitter.com/46Fi44fxPE
— Andrew Lawrence (@ndrew_lawrence) January 8, 2019