WASHINGTON — In a somber televised plea, President Donald Trump urged congressional Democrats to fund his long-promised border wall Tuesday night, blaming illegal immigration for what he called a scourge of drugs and violence in the U.S. and framing the debate over the partial government shutdown in stark terms.
“This is a choice between right and wrong,” he declared.
Democrats, in response, accused Trump of appealing to “fear, not facts” and manufacturing a border crisis for political gain.
The back-to-back remarks by Trump and Democratic leaders appeared unlikely to do much to break the logjam that has left large swaths of the government closed. Three weeks into the shutdown, the strain was starting to show with hundreds of thousands of federal workers on track to miss paychecks this week.
Addressing the nation from the Oval Office for the first time, Trump argued for spending some $5.7 billion for a border wall on both security and humanitarian grounds as he sought to put pressure on newly empowered Democrats amid the extended shutdown.
Trump, who will visit the Mexican border in person 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.
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 turn loose paychecks for hundreds of thousands of workers.
Negotiations on wall funding could proceed in the meantime, they said.
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.”
Schumer said America’s symbol “should be the Statute of Liberty, not a 30-foot wall.” He accused Trump of trying to “stoke fear and divert attention” from his tumultuous administration.
The Democrats’ prime-time remarks were something of a debut for the newly empowered opposition. Less than a week after Democrats seized control of the House, Pelosi and Schumer stood side-by-side at a lectern in a joint appearance that appeared designed to emphasize their party’s unity.
North Coast response
U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman voiced frustration with the president Tuesday night following the speech and infused his own sense of humor.
His response: “It was really one of surprise that he made the nation interrupt ‘Jeopardy’ and ‘Wheel of Fortune’ to hear a bunch of tired rhetoric.”
In contrast, the counterpoints made by Pelosi and Schumer were “substantive, factual” in Huffman’s estimation
Huffman sees two options coming out of tomorrow’s discussion with top-ranking Democrats.
“I will predict one of two things,” he told the Times-Standard on Tuesday night. “I will predict this whole thing ends tomorrow because Trump declares Democrats won’t fund his wall so he’ll try to do this emergency declaration and that will end up in the courts… the other is this continues for a long time. Every day that we are talking about the craziness of the border wall, we are not talking about the indictments embroiling his administration.”
Over the past weekend, Huffman picked up trash at national parks affected by the partial government shutdown. That trash was delivered to the White House on Tuesday.
Huffman said he hopes the stunt drives home a point.
“This was an attempt to bring some reality to President Trump, to make the point his stunt in shutting down the government is causing real-world consequences,” he said. “It’s affecting park visitors. … And hundreds of thousands of federal employees who are in their third week without a paycheck. For this president, for his life of privilege and cloistered in the White House with servants meeting every need, he has no clue about folks who have to struggle and what it means to miss a couple of paychecks in a middle-class lifestyle.”
“I hope that the trash makes it to him,” he continued. “I hope he sifts through the burrito wrappers and diapers. This is the problem he as created. And I hope that becomes a little more real for him.”
Times-Standard city editor Ruth Schneider contributed to this report.