WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump is ramping up his efforts to make a public case for his border wall as the partial government shutdown is now in its third week, planning a prime-time address tonight and a visit to the border Thursday.
Trump announced the news of the presidential address in a Monday tweet.
"I am pleased to inform you that I will Address the Nation on the Humanitarian and National Security crisis on our Southern Border," he said. "Tuesday night at 9:00 P.M. Eastern."
It was not immediately clear which outlets would carry his address. The four major broadcast networks -- ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC -- confirmed receiving the White House request on Monday for Trump to speak, but producers had not decided whether to grant him the time. Pre-empting prime-time coverage is an expensive proposition for television executives, who have sold millions of dollars' worth of advertising against entertainment programming.
As of 2 p.m. Monday, only the cable networks CNN, Fox News and Fox Business Network had confirmed that they would carry Trump's speech.
Trump's Oval Office speech -- his first as president-- will be followed by his visit Thursday to the southern border to highlight his demand for a barrier. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted that he will use the visit to "meet with those on the front lines of the national security and humanitarian crisis."
The presidential speech and visit come amid the partial government shutdown and Trump's insistence that any funding bill to reopen federal agencies include $5.7 billion for his border wall.
Hundreds of thousands of federal workers face missed paychecks Friday as the shutdown drags through a third week. Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said on NBC's Meet the Press that if the shutdown continues into today, "then payroll will not go out as originally planned on Friday night."
As Trump's prime-time address and his border visit were announced, newly empowered House Democrats -- and at least a few Republican senators -- stepped up pressure on GOP lawmakers to reopen the government without giving in to the president's demands The closure, which has lasted 17 days, is already the second-longest in history and would become the longest this weekend.
Leaning on Senate Republicans, some of whom are growing anxious about the impact of the shutdown, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House would begin passing individual bills this week that would reopen federal agencies, starting with the Treasury Department to ensure Americans receive their tax refunds.
The White House moved to pre-empt the Democrats, telling reporters Monday that tax refunds would be paid despite the shutdown. That shutdown exemption would break from the practice of earlier administrations and could be challenged.
"There is an indefinite appropriation to pay tax refunds. As a result ... the refunds will go out as normal," said Russell Vought, acting director of the White House budget office.
Trump has tasked Vice President Mike Pence during the shutdown fight to negotiate with Democrats, including during talks over the weekend with Democratic staff members. But the vice president is increasingly being called upon to prevent defections in the GOP ranks.
Asked whether cracks were forming between the White House and Republicans eager for the shutdown to end, Pence told reporters, "We've been in touch with those members and others."
MORE TALKS THIS WEEK
Ahead of Trump's speech from the Oval Office, Pence and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen will meet with House Republicans on Capitol Hill early this evening to discuss the border situation, according to two House GOP aides.
Pence told reporters Monday that Trump has invited Democrats back to the White House this week for further talks.
"Our position is very simply this: There is a humanitarian and national security crisis at the southern border," Pence said during a briefing in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. He added that the White House has "been negotiating to open the government and address that border crisis" as well as "taking steps to mitigate the effects of the shutdown."
Some Democrats responded to the news of Trump's address with concern that he would mislead the American people about the situation at the border.
"I expect the president to lie to the American people," House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said. "Why do I expect this? Because he has been lying to the American people."
Nadler was part of a delegation of Democratic lawmakers who toured a Border Patrol facility in Alamogordo, N.M., on Monday to investigate the death of 8-year-old Felipe Gomez Alonzo, the second child to die in December after being apprehended crossing the border illegally.
The White House did not immediately release details Monday on the site of Trump's planned visit. But the Federal Aviation Administration issued a notice that airspace in the McAllen, Texas, vicinity would be restricted Thursday due to a "VIP movement."
The border city of 142,000 people is home to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility where migrants who have crossed illegally into the country have been detained. First lady Melania Trump also visited a shelter for migrant children in McAllen in June.
As the new Congress convened, Pence called House Republicans last week and urged them to vote against Democratic measures that would have reopened the government without wall funding. Today's meeting comes ahead of votes that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has planned on a piecemeal reopening of the government, beginning with the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service.
Yet talks between the White House and congressional aides over the weekend showed no signs of a breakthrough, and hundreds of thousands of federal workers remain furloughed.
Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said in an appearance on MSNBC on Monday afternoon that federal employees "have really been kicked into the middle of a political fight that they didn't create and that they don't have the authority to try and resolve."
"This has gone way too far," added Reardon, whose union represents 150,000 members at 33 federal agencies and departments. "Get these people back to work and get them paid."
Trump said Sunday that he understood the predicament facing federal workers who are not receiving their paychecks.
With the effects of the partial shutdown rippling across the country, Vought sent a letter to congressional leaders Sunday detailing the administration's demands.
The letter called for $5.7 billion "for construction of a steel barrier for the Southwest border" but also proposed "an additional $800 million to address urgent humanitarian needs" and unaccompanied migrant children arriving at the border.
A Democratic official said no progress was made over the weekend, in large part because the White House has not been forthcoming about how the money would be used or why the request is for so much more than the administration sought only a few months ago.
Democrats have also made clear that they object to the wall itself, not how it's constructed. They see it as immoral and ineffective and prefer other types of border security funded at already agreed-upon levels.
"Maybe he thinks he can bully us. But I'm from Brooklyn. You let a bully succeed, you'll be bullied again worse," Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer said at a breakfast with the Association for a Better New York.
At the White House, spokeswoman Mercedes Schlapp complained that Democratic leaders have yet to define what they mean when they say they are for enhancing border security.
"Democrats want to secure the border? Great. Come to the table," she said Monday. "We are willing to come to a deal to reopen the government."
Trump has said in recent days that he might seek to unilaterally secure border wall funding by declaring a national emergency, a move that experts say would be of questionable legality. Pence said the White House counsel's office is looking at the idea.
Pelosi, sharply criticized Trump on Sunday for raising that possibility, suggesting in an interview with CBS News that the president "would like to not only close government, build a wall, but also abolish Congress so the only voice that mattered was his own."
This week's votes in the House are designed to put Republicans in a challenging spot, as they will spotlight the issue of whether millions of Americans get their tax refund checks.
The White House decided Monday that it is legally permissible to process tax returns during the shutdown, reversing past IRS policy.
Tax-filing season opens soon, and while those who owe Uncle Sam will likely still have to pay up by April 15, people who were due money back have been worrying about a delay if the closure persists.
About three-quarters of taxpayers receive annual refunds, giving them an incentive to file their returns early. Many lower-income people count on refunds as their biggest cash infusion of the year.
The IRS might recall a large number of furloughed employees to process returns -- probably without pay -- in accordance with its usual contingency plans. Still, hundreds of billions in refunds would likely still be delayed because funding wouldn't be available, under current rules.
Some experts question whether the Trump administration has the legal authority to reverse earlier policies to allow government money to flow into refunds during a shutdown.
Vought framed the move as part of Trump's goal to make the shutdown "as painless as possible."
With the White House announcement on refunds, "They're reversing a long-standing legal position," said Howard Gleckman, senior fellow and tax expert at the Urban Institute. But, he added wryly, "Who's going to sue? It would be hard to show damages. ... So they might be able to get away with it."
Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee said they began to see indications over the weekend that the White House was looking for a legal justification to reverse existing policy and allow refunds to be issued. But committee lawyers believe the law prohibits such a move, because refunds are paid out of the government's general fund.
Committee staff said Monday they were struggling to get clarity from administration officials, many of whom are out on furlough.
"We keep trying to call people at IRS and Treasury," said Daniel Rubin, a spokesman for the Ways and Means Committee, "and there's no one there."
A Treasury Department spokesman did not return a request for comment Monday. An IRS spokesman referred calls to Treasury.
Information for this article was contributed by Felicia Sonmez, Josh Dawsey, Paul Farhi, Robert Costa and John Wagner of The Washington Post; by Matthew Daly, Catherine Lucey, Lisa Mascaro, Marcy Gordon, Jill Colvin and staff members of The Associated Press; and by Maggie Haberman, Michael M. Grynbaum Eileen Sullivan, Jim Tankersley and Michael Tackett of The New York Times.
A Section on 01/08/2019
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