President Donald Trump made a televised plea for border wall funding Tuesday night, seeking an edge in the shutdown battle with congressional Democrats as he declared there is "a humanitarian crisis, a crisis of the heart and a crisis of the soul."
Addressing the nation from the Oval Office for the first time, Trump argued for funding on security and humanitarian grounds as he sought to put pressure on newly empowered Democrats amid an extended partial government shutdown.
Trump called on Democrats to return to the White House to meet with him, saying it was "immoral" for "politicians to do nothing."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer rejected Trump's description of a crisis on the Mexican border in a televised response to the president's address.
"President Trump must stop holding the American people hostage, must stop manufacturing a crisis, and must reopen the government," Pelosi said.
Standing next to Pelosi, Schumer said only Trump should be blamed for the shutdown.
"American democracy doesn't work that way," Schumer said. "We don't govern by temper tantrum. No president should pound the table and demand he gets his way or else the government shuts down, hurting millions of Americans who are treated as leverage."
Democrats had asked networks for rebuttal time Tuesday night, expressing concerns that the president would try to make a case based on falsehoods. In a joint statement Monday night, Pelosi and Schumer said Trump's address would probably be "full of malice and misinformation" and that "Democrats must immediately be given equal airtime."
Trump, who has long railed against illegal immigration at the border, has recently seized on humanitarian concerns to argue there is a broader crisis that can only be solved with a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. But critics say the security risks are overblown and his administration is at least partly to blame for the humanitarian situation.
Trump's stand on the wall received support Tuesday from members of the Arkansas congressional delegation.
"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," said U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, a Republican from Rogers. "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. French Hill, a Republican from Little Rock, said the country faces 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," he said in a written statement. "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."
U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford said Democratic leaders in Congress are willing "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 [Trump] up on his offer and earnestly seek a solution to address this national security imperative as quickly as possible," the Republican from Jonesboro said in a written statement.
Earlier Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman said it was necessary for Trump to make the televised address "because Congress hasn't acted."
In a written statement, the Republican from Hot Springs portrayed the southern border as an entry point for drugs and abused children.
"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," he said.
In a tweet, U.S. Sen. John Boozman also emphasized the importance of securing the border.
"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," the Republican from Rogers tweeted.
The president and Vice President Mike Pence are expected to have lunch with Senate Republicans today at the Capitol, and Trump will meet with congressional leaders of both parties at the White House. The president is scheduled to travel to the southern border Thursday to further amplify his case for building a wall.
In his address, Trump did not offer any new ideas for resolving an impasse that's led to the shutdown, now in its 19th day. He's demanded $5.7 billion to build about 234 miles of new physical barrier along the border, as well as billions more over currently appropriated spending levels for border security and to detain migrants caught crossing illegally into the U.S.
Federal agencies continue to grapple with the effects of the shutdown. On Tuesday afternoon, the Environmental Protection Agency notified employees that they will receive half their normal salary on this week's payday. The agency had remained open during the first week of the shutdown.
LETTERS TO LAWMAKERS
Ahead of Trump's speech, pressure to end the shutdown continued to mount. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to lawmakers Tuesday, urging Congress and the Trump administration to reopen the government, throwing its support behind a deal that would combine border security measures with protections for people brought to the U.S. as children and now here illegally, as well as to those in the temporary protected status program.
"The shutdown is harming the American people, the business community, and the economy," Neil Bradley, the group's executive vice president and chief policy officer, said in the letter.
Pelosi has planned a new series of votes on a piecemeal reopening of the government, beginning with the Treasury Department and the IRS. This week's votes will put Republicans in a particularly difficult position because they will spotlight the issue of whether millions of Americans will have trouble receiving their tax refund checks.
"There is an opportunity for every American to see who wants government open, and our responsibility is not to do what the president of the United States tells us to do," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters Tuesday. "Our responsibility is to do what we think is in the best interest of the American people and the effective and efficient operations of their government."
Trump is considering invoking the National Emergencies Act of 1976 to declare an emergency, activating executive authorities, including the reprogramming of some Defense Department funds.
Trump first mentioned the possibility of declaring a national emergency Friday, telling reporters in the Rose Garden: "I may do it. We can call a national emergency and build it very quickly. It's another way of doing it."
Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said Tuesday that he opposes using military construction money under an emergency declaration.
"In short, I'm opposed to using defense dollars for nondefense purposes," Thornberry said.
He added that he thinks border security is "very important." But "it is not a responsibility of the Department of Defense," he said.
One Democrat being lobbied by Trump senior adviser Jared Kushner -- Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. -- said he would not oppose a declaration of a national emergency by Trump if that means the president would allow the shuttered parts of federal government to reopen.
"If that's what it takes, if he wants to declare a national emergency, it'll be fought out in the courts," Manchin said in an interview Tuesday. "I'm OK with that, and let it be fought out in the courts."
Meanwhile, leaders of the nonpartisan National Governors Association are calling on Trump and Congress to end the shutdown.
In a letter sent late Monday, they said a "shutdown should not be a negotiating tactic as disagreements are resolved" and warned that the shutdown is affecting residents and state governments.
The letter was signed by the organization's chairman, Montana Democrat Steve Bullock, and vice chairman, Maryland Republican Larry Hogan.
While the letter doesn't bear all their signatures, the organization represents some of the most prominent politicians in the nation from both major parties. Governors do not have a direct role in striking a federal budget deal.
In the letter, the governors don't take a stance on whether a wall should be built on the border with Mexico. Instead, it argues that a shutdown isn't an appropriate way to handle policy disputes.
"Governors stand united in telling the federal government to open the doors of currently shuttered agencies while you find a long-term, bipartisan compromise on the issues that currently divide Washington," the letter says.
The organization says governors are seeing a toll from the shutdown -- and that it could get worse.
About 800,000 federal employees are furloughed or working without pay, leading to financial struggles for them and "potentially siphoning dollars from state economies."
The governors also warn that federal court operations could be curtailed by next week and that shorelines face a safety risk because of reduced Coast Guard capabilities.
Information for this article was contributed by Felicia Sonmez, John Wagner, Josh Dawsey, Mike DeBonis, Robert Costa, Juliet Eilperin, Seung Min Kim, Philip Rucker and Erica Werner of The Washington Post; by Catherine Lucey, Jill Colvin, Lisa Mascaro and Geoff Mulvihill of The Associated Press; by Jennifer Epstein and Jennifer Jacobs of Bloomberg News; and by Frank E. Lockwood of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
A Section on 01/09/2019
Print Headline: Trump takes wall-funds plea public, says it's ‘immoral’ to not solve border crisis