President Donald Trump delivered his first national address since taking office Tuesday night, in which he once again blamed Democrats for the partial government shutdown and called on politicians to provide $5.7 billion to fund construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“How much more American blood must we shed before Congress does its job?” Trump asked during his nine-minute address from the Oval Office, calling the situation at the southern border “a humanitarian crisis, a crisis of the heart, and a crisis of the soul.”
The president stopped short of declaring a national emergency to construct the wall without congressional approval, as some had speculated he might do. Neither Trump nor Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer — who gave their own televised response following the president’s speech — offered any new hope that a partial government shutdown nearing its three-week mark would end anytime soon.
By 9:30 p.m., all the major broadcast networks had already returned to their regular programming, with Trump scheduled to meet with congressional leaders on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.
Trump has refused to sign any new budget deal that doesn’t include $5.7 billion to begin building a wall along the southern border, which Democrats oppose, saying it would be ineffective and wasteful. This has led to a shutdown of nine federal agencies, forcing roughly 800,000 federal workers to go without their regular paychecks.
During an off-the record meeting with reporters Tuesday afternoon, Trump dismissed his own national address and a planned trip to the border on Thursday as pointless, according to the New York Times.
“It’s not going to change a damn thing, but I’m still doing it," Trump said, according to the Times.
“But these people behind you say it’s worth it,” Trump reportedly added as he pointed to his communications aides — Kellyanne Conway, Sarah Sanders, and former Fox News executive Bill Shine.
During his speech, Trump made the odd claim that Democrats wanted his proposed border wall to be a steel barrier, rather than the concrete wall he campaigned on during the 2016 election.
“At the request of Democrats, it will be a steel barrier rather than a concrete wall," Trump said.
But Democrats have made no such request. Instead, it was Trump himself who mentioned a steel barrier while speaking to reporters outside the White House over the weekend.
“I informed my folks to say that we’ll build a steel barrier,” Trump told reporters, adding that Democrats "don’t like concrete, so we’ll give them steel.”
Back in December, Trump tweeted out a graphic of what his proposed “steel slat barrier” would look like. It remains unclear where the graphic originated.
During the Democratic rebuttal to Trump’s speech, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said the president was misleading Americans by claiming migrant families seeking asylum were a security threat to the country.
“The fact is that women and children at the border are not a security threat. They are a humanitarian challenge. A challenge that President Trump’s own cruel and counterproductive policies have only deepened,” Pelosi said. “And the fact is President Trump must stop holding American people hostage, must stop manufacturing a crisis, and must reopen the government.”
During his speech, Trump said his proposed border wall would “be paid for indirectly by the great new trade deal we have made with Mexico.”
Politifact rated Trump’s claim as “false,” pointing out that the renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement is not in effect yet and doesn’t contain language directing any funds to the construction of a border wall.
“I do not see any scenario under which the U.S. government gets more money from Mexico per se — and even if the U.S. tariffs had been raised, that would be paid by Mexican importers, not the Mexican government,” Lori Wallach, director at Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, told Politifact.
Trump is scheduled to meet with congressional leaders at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, the third such meeting since the partial government shutdown. As of Tuesday evening, it was unclear if top Democrats would be in attendance, but The Hill is reporting that Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the Senate minority whip, planned to attend the meeting, which will take place in the White House Situation Room.
Trump is scheduled to travel to the U.S.-Mexico border on Thursday, according to White House press secretary Sarah Sanders. No further details about his trip have been released.
In an interview on PBS News Hour, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick — a Bucks County Republican — said the shutdown over funding of a border wall “hasn’t accomplished anything” and called on Congress to come together to pass a bill to reopen the government.
“Government shutdowns are no way to run a country and no way to govern,” Fitzpatrick said. “These are very important debates on issues like immigration, border security, and DACA, but we can’t hold our federal employees hostage.”
In 2014, President Barack Obama delivered a prime time address on immigration that wasn’t carried by the major broadcast networks. A network insider told Politico at the time that “there was agreement among the broadcast networks that [Obama’s speech] was overtly political.”
That was Obama’s sixth address to the nation, while tonight’s speech will be Trump’s first time using the Oval Office to deliver a message to the country. While many journalists and media pundits question allowing Trump national airtime due to his history of stating falsehoods, network executives told CNN and the New York Times they were uncomfortable turning down the president amid the government shutdown.
“When the president of the United States asks for airtime, you’ve got to do it,” veteran ABC anchor Ted Koppel told the New York Times. “If what he has to say is clearly just in his self-interest and does not address the greater national interest, then the next time the White House comes around, I might not be inclined to offer it.”
All four living presidents — Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter — have come forward publicly to state they never told Trump privately the country needed a wall along the southern border.
Trump’s comments came last Friday during a lengthy news conference at the White House, where he defended his request for $5 billion to begin building his long-promised border wall.
“This should have been done by all of the presidents that preceded me and they all know it," Trump told reporters. "Some of them have told me that we should have done it.”