President Trump called on Congress Tuesday night to fund his proposal for stronger border security and to end the government shutdown, saying there is a “growing humanitarian and security crisis” at the southern border.
“This is a choice between right and wrong, justice and injustice,” Mr. Trump told the nation in a prime-time address, citing high-profile crimes committed by illegal immigrants. “How much more American blood must we shed before Congress does its job?”
In his first Oval Office address, Mr. Trump stopped short of declaring a national emergency that would allow him to order the military to build a barrier on the border, a move that would also draw legal challenges. He instead called on Democrats to fund his proposals, including $5.7 billion for a wall or steel barrier.
“This barrier is absolutely critical to border security,” he said. “It’s also what our professionals at the border want and need. This is just common sense.”
Mr. Trump hammered home the amount of crime committed by illegal immigrants in the U.S., saying federal authorities arrested 266,000 illegal immigrants with criminal records in the past two years.
“Over the years, thousands of Americans have been brutally killed by those who illegally entered our country, and thousands more lives will be lost if we do not act right now,” the president said. “All Americans are hurt by uncontrolled illegal migration. It strains public resources and drives down jobs and wages.”
He blamed congressional Democrats for refusing to negotiate with him until the government is reopened, saying Democrats who previously supported a border wall “changed their mind only after I was elected president.”
“This situation could be solved in a 45-minute meeting,” the president said. “Hopefully, we can rise above partisan politics. The federal government remains shut down for one reason and one reason only: because Democrats will not fund border security.”
The president said he had invited congressional leaders to the White House Wednesday for negotiations, and urged voters to “call Congress and tell them to finally, after all of these decades, secure our border.”
Delivering his address on the 18th day of the partial government shutdown, Mr. Trump sought to convince more voters about a crisis at the border and hoped to pressure congressional Democrats to fund a wall and to keep Republican lawmakers in line with him.
A majority of Americans, 54 percent, oppose building the wall, according to the latest Quinnipiac University poll. While 86 percent of Republicans support it, just 45 percent of independents and 8 percent of Democrats back the proposal.
A Politico/Morning Consult poll released Tuesday found that 42 percent of American voters believe that the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border is “a crisis.”
A Harvard CAPS/Harris online survey of 1,407 registered voters found that 56 percent of respondents did not support a wall while 44 percent did. That survey was conducted just after the shutdown began.
The president approached the speech with the all-hands-on-deck approach of a State of the Union address, which is scheduled for Jan. 29. He invited representatives of cable and broadcast news channels to an off-the-record lunch at the White House to preview the address.
Vice President Mike Pence and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen visited Capitol Hill hours before the address to brief Republican lawmakers.
Democrats fumed about networks granting the president airtime. They said Mr. Trump would use the occasion to lie to the public about a border crisis in an effort to fulfill his campaign promise of building a wall.
“The comments you will hear tonight are not based in fact and are likely to include misinformation, blatant lies, & fearmongering,” tweeted Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat.
In their televised response, Democrats’ top leaders said Mr. Trump abused the office of the presidency by trying to “stoke fear” from the White House.
“This president just used the backdrop of the Oval Office to manufacture a crisis, stoke fear and divert attention from the turmoil in his administration,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.
He and new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, sought to shift the focus from Mr. Trump’s border arguments back to the government shutdown, saying they are willing to talk about security — though not walls — but no conversations can begin until federal workers are back on the job.
“He promised to keep government shut down for months or years, no matter who it hurts,” Mrs. Pelosi said.
Hours before Mr. Trump spoke to the nation, the Mexican government announced a plan to post guards at 370 “illegal crossing points” along its border with Guatemala to prevent more migrant “caravans” from entering the country. An increased frequency of caravans from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador have added to border tensions.
The president will follow up his speech with a visit Thursday to the U.S.-Mexico border. In McAllen, Texas, he will demonstrate the need for a border barrier and meet with people “on the front lines of the national security and humanitarian crisis,” said White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Mr. Pence said border security isn’t a partisan issue, and he and other administration officials have emphasized the humanitarian component. About 50 people a day who cross the border illegally require hospitalization, administration officials said.
“This isn’t about base; this is about the American people,” Mr. Pence told reporters Monday. “This is about human trafficking. This is about a humanitarian crisis. This is about the flow of illegal drugs, illegal immigration and the president’s determination to address that issue with action and with resources.”
But Democrats know that Mr. Trump’s failure to deliver on his campaign promise to build a wall would hurt his re-election chances next year.
Sen. Kamala D. Harris, California Democrat and a potential 2020 presidential contender, referred to the wall Tuesday as Mr. Trump’s “vanity project.”
Border Patrol officials have said their job would be easier with fencing or some other type of barrier rather than a solid concrete wall. In the past few weeks, Mr. Trump has shifted his rhetoric from a wall to building a barrier of “steel slats.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, noted Tuesday that many Democrats, including then-Sen. Barack Obama, have voted in the past to build hundreds of miles of physical barriers along the southwestern border.
“Maybe the Democratic Party was for secure borders before they were against them,” Mr. McConnell said. “It’s just political spite, a partisan tantrum being prioritized over the public interest.”
Administration officials say the illegal movement of people, drugs and weapons across the border has reached a crisis point.
In 2016, President Obama’s last full fiscal year in office, apprehensions on the southwestern border totaled 408,870. Apprehensions declined to 303,916 in fiscal 2017, which included about eight months under Mr. Trump. The peak was 1.6 million border apprehensions in 2000.
In fiscal 2018, Mr. Trump’s first full fiscal year, U.S. Customs and Border Protection apprehensions rose to 396,579.
Homeland Security Department officials say the problem has worsened significantly in the past year because of a rise in the number of unaccompanied children and families crossing the border. Detention facilities traditionally have not been equipped to handle large numbers of children.
Congressional Democratic leaders have refused to negotiate border security matters with the White House until the president agrees to reopen the government. House Democrats, now in the majority, hope to pressure Mr. Trump and congressional Republicans to approve several bills this week to fund the departments that have been closed since late December.
But the shutdown, now the second-longest in history, is likely to continue through at least the remainder of this week. Majority Republicans in the Senate say they won’t vote on any spending bills that Mr. Trump would reject.
If the government remains closed through Saturday, then the impasse will eclipse the 21-day shutdown of 1995-96 as the longest ever, although the episode during the Clinton administration involved the entire government. The current shutdown affects just nine departments comprising about one-fourth of the federal government.
About 800,000 federal workers are either on furlough or are working without pay during the shutdown.
Although the vice president said the border crisis isn’t a partisan issue, the Trump-Pence re-election campaign sent a fundraising email Tuesday to capitalize from the president’s national prime-time address. The email under Mr. Trump’s name asks supporters to donate to his “Official Secure the Border Fund” through the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, with a goal is $500,000.
“I want to know who stood with me when it mattered most so I’ve asked my team to send me a list of EVERY AMERICAN PATRIOT who donates to the Official Secure the Border Fund,” the email states. “Please make a special contribution of $5 by 9 PM EST to our Official Secure the Border Fund to have your name sent to me after my speech.”
Mr. Trump added, “I wouldn’t be speaking to you tonight if this wasn’t one of the most critical times in the history of our country. I need you to step up.”
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