WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump opened his first Oval Office address to the nation warning of “a growing humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border,” one that most experts say is at odds with facts.
The immigration matter, Trump said, is “a crisis of the heart, a crisis of the soul.”
Speaking from behind the Resolute Desk, Trump said the US could no longer accommodate immigrants who enter the country illegally.
‘We are out of space to hold them and we have no way to promptly return them back home to their country,” Trump said.
“All Americans are hurt by uncontrolled illegal migration,” Trump said. “It strains public resources and drives down jobs and wages.”
After weeks of a partial government shutdown, Trump and his negotiators have made little headway in convincing Democrats a barrier is needed before agencies can reopen and federal workers can begin receiving paychecks again.
The administration has steadfastly refused to take steps that would restore funding to some agencies, believing the shutdown is its best leverage to secure the wall funds. Fearing he could lose a messaging battle as more Americans feel the pain of a shuttered government, Trump escalated his warnings that the country is unsafe without the border wall he promised as a candidate.
In making his case, Trump turned for the first time to one of the most recognizable symbols of the American presidency — an eight-minute direct-to-camera evening address from the Oval Office. He will continue his push in the following days, meeting with Republican senators during their weekly lunch on Wednesday. On Thursday he’ll pay a visit to the Texas border town of McAllen. Trump, however, will address Americans suffering a credibility lapse after he and his aides have repeated multiple false claims about immigration.
Whether the authoritative setting will convince more Americans there truly is a security crisis at the southern border remains an open question. Facts undercut the administration’s portrait of a nation under siege by terrorists and criminals crossing the southern border; in July 2017, the State Department said there was “no credible information that any member of a terrorist group has traveled through Mexico to gain access to the United States.”
The administration’s own figures show vastly more known or suspected terrorists were apprehended at airports.
Trump and top White House officials have in recent days begun speaking more about the humanitarian crisis at the border, which Democrats say is real but of the administration’s own making. A surge of families seeking asylum has strained health and child care facilities, and two children have died in US custody.
Utah politicians react:
Rep. Ben McAdams (D-UT) released the following comment on Trump’s address:
“Utahns expect us to work together, find common ground and move forward with solutions. We have important issues to address that will be debated over the coming months but we should have those debates after we’ve done our basic job of resuming government operations. Both parties and President Trump need to work together to end the partial government shutdown. This impasse is unproductive, unnecessary and harms our ability to resolve serious issues such as reforming our broken immigration system and lowering health care costs.”
Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) called for an end to the shutdown and the border crisis in his statement:
“We have a crisis on our southern border. Our law enforcement personnel are being overrun. We need more border patrol agents, more emergency medical technicians, more immigration judges, and yes, more wall,” Sen. Lee said.
“We already have 650 miles of wall on the southern border. But it is not enough. President Clinton built wall, President Bush built wall, and even President Obama built wall. Walls work. Let’s come together, give the Department of Homeland Security the money they need to address this crisis, and end the shutdown.”
Work in progress
Midday on Tuesday, Trump was working closely with top aides, including policy adviser Stephen Miller, on drafts of the speech.
Democrats will have a chance to rebut the President in a subsequent address; all the television networks that agreed to air Trump’s remarks also agreed to air Democrats’ response, delivered jointly by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer.
Pelosi and Schumer, along with other Democratic and Republican leaders, will return to the White House on Wednesday to resume talks, though it wasn’t yet clear whether either side would come offering new elements of a compromise.
Trump chose to deliver the address after weekend talks between administration officials and Democrats failed to generate a deal that could reopen the parts of government closed by the shutdown.
The closures have become more apparent this week, as more Americans return from holiday vacations to find some federal services unavailable. Most federal workers affected by the shutdown were due to receive paychecks on Friday; without an agreement, they won’t be paid.
Trump has insisted in public that unpaid workers are understanding in their plight, and that he feels their pain.
But in private, the President has worried an extended shutdown could erode his political support as more Americans feel the effects. Yet he’s also fretted that failing to deliver on the border wall — his chief campaign vow — would hurt him with his conservative base.