In a televised address to the nation from the Oval Office Tuesday night, President Trump chastised congressional Democrats for their refusal to fund the construction of a border wall and suggested they were abetting an ongoing “humanitarian crisis” at the southern border.
“This is a humanitarian crisis. A crisis of the heart, and a crisis of the soul,” Trump said. It was his first address from the Oval Office.
The address comes on the 18th day of an ongoing partial government shutdown, which was prompted by Trump’s refusal to sign spending legislation that did not include more than $5 billion for the construction of a “steel slat barrier” on the southern border.
After publicly entertaining, in recent days, the possibility of bypassing Congress and funding the wall unilaterally by declaring a state of emergency, Trump opted to emphasize the importance of congressional action to end the shutdown during his address.
While he did not use the language of a “national emergency,” Trump repeatedly invoked the word “crisis,” citing the recent influx of Central American families arriving on the southern border and the dangers they are exposed to on their journey.
“Last month 20,000 migrant children were illegally brought into the United States, a dramatic increase. These children are used as human pawns by vicious coyotes and ruthless gangs,” Trump said. “One in three women are sexually assaulted on the dangerous trek up through Mexico. Women and children are the biggest victims, by far, of our broken system. This is the tragic reality of illegal immigration on our southern border. This is the cycle of human suffering that I am determined to end.”
The president also made vague reference to criminals entering the country, while avoiding specific figures, and recounted a number of anecdotes, including the death of a young police officer in California at the hands of an illegal immigrant, to illustrate the cost of lax immigration enforcement.
In an attempt to cast his opponents as hypocritical and unprincipled, Trump also cited previous Democratic support for increased border security, which in many cases included the construction of barriers, arguing that they only abandoned that position in opposition to his presidency.
“They changed their mind only after I was elected president,” Trump said of Democrats.
In a televised response to Trump’s address, House speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer asked the president to separate the issue of border security from funding the government and argued that Trump should prioritize ending the shutdown over accomplishing a campaign promise.
The Democratic leaders, who demanded equal airtime to respond after the major networks agreed to carry Trump’s address live, also dismissed the construction of a border wall as an outdated, wasteful, and ineffectual attempt to address illegal immigration, and instead emphasized humanitarian and technological solutions.