Trump on border wall: 'Choice between right and wrong'

President TrumpDonald John TrumpUS reimposes UN sanctions on Iran amid increasing tensions Jeff Flake: Republicans 'should hold the same position' on SCOTUS vacancy as 2016 Trump supporters chant 'Fill that seat' at North Carolina rally MORE on Tuesday argued the U.S. is facing a “growing humanitarian and security crisis” at the southern border in a primetime address designed to seize leverage over Democrats in a prolonged shutdown battle over his demand for a border wall.

In his first address to the nation from the Oval Office, Trump pressured Democrats to grant his request for $5.7 billion in wall funding by accusing the party of ignoring what he claims is an influx of drugs and criminals that can only be stopped with a wall.

“How much more American blood must we shed before Congress does its job?” Trump said. “This is a choice between right and wrong, justice and injustice. This is about whether we fulfill our sacred duty to the American citizens we serve.”

ADVERTISEMENT

The president implored Democrats to return to the White House on Wednesday to resume negotiations, saying “the only thing that's immoral is politicians who do nothing.”

But it appears unlikely that Trump’s nine-minute address, which made no new offers, will do much to break the impasse as the partial shutdown stretches closer to a fourth week.

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiSunday shows preview: Justice Ginsburg dies, sparking partisan battle over vacancy before election Trump is betting big on the suburbs, but his strategy is failing 'bigly' Trump orders flags at half-staff to honor 'trailblazer' Ginsburg MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerVideo of Lindsey Graham arguing against nominating a Supreme Court justice in an election year goes viral Graham signals support for confirming a Supreme Court nominee this year Pelosi orders Capitol flags at half-staff to honor Ginsburg MORE (D-N.Y.) rejected Trump’s argument that a crisis exists along the border and said the president is solely to blame for the shutdown.

“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,” Schumer said in a televised rebuttal from the Capitol.

Buoyed by polls showing most Americans blame Trump for the shutdown, Pelosi repeated her stance that she will only negotiate with Trump over border security if he decided to fund shuttered government agencies that have been closed since Dec. 22.

“President Trump must stop holding the American people hostage, must stop manufacturing a crisis, and must reopen the government,” she said.

Trump has been considering the possibility of declaring a national emergency that would allow him to circumvent Congress to build the wall. But he made no mention of those deliberations in his address, even though some anticipated he might.

Instead, the lurid and emotional language he used to describe the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border could be used to lay the groundwork for an eventual declaration, if it is made.

“This is a humanitarian crisis—a crisis of the heart and a crisis of the soul,” he said.

He told the stories of people who were killed by immigrants living illegally in the U.S., including one about an Air Force veteran who was raped and beaten to death with a hammer.

“I’ve held the hands of the weeping mothers and embraced the grief-stricken fathers,” Trump said. “So sad. So terrible.”

Democrats have bristled at Trump’s use of such incidents, pointing out that studies have shown immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than natural-born U.S. citizens.

Federal data also shows that illegal border crossings have fallen in recent years, numbers that Democrats have used to argue that Trump’s claims of a border crisis is overblown.

“There is no crisis, there is no invasion, there is no clear and present danger as the president would try to convey to the American people — to scare them and to justify actions otherwise not justified,” House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerHouse Democrats postpone vote on marijuana decriminalization bill Democrats scramble on COVID-19 relief amid division, Trump surprise The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - Pence lauds Harris as 'experienced debater'; Trump, Biden diverge over debate prep MORE (D-Md.) said before the speech.

But Trump believes the wall is a winning issue with his base and his allies see delivering on his promise to build it as key to his 2020 reelection race, factors that prompted Trump to trigger the shutdown 18 days ago by nixing a budget deal that did not include wall money.

As the shutdown has dragged on, cracks have begun to emerge among congressional Republicans worried about the political fallout from its effects, including the possibility of hundreds of thousands of federal workers missing paychecks starting Friday.

Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceMomentum growing among Republicans for Supreme Court vote before Election Day Sunday shows preview: Justice Ginsburg dies, sparking partisan battle over vacancy before election McConnell urges GOP senators to 'keep your powder dry' on Supreme Court vacancy MORE and other top officials trekked to Capitol Hill on Tuesday evening before the address to urge House Republicans to “stand strong” behind the president, amid fears some GOP lawmakers could defect and support Democratic bills to reopen government.

Trump plans to join Pence on Wednesday at the weekly Senate Republican policy lunch in the Capitol, where they are expected to deliver a similar message.

Three GOP senators facing potentially tough reelection races in 2020, Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerJeff Flake: Republicans 'should hold the same position' on SCOTUS vacancy as 2016 Momentum growing among Republicans for Supreme Court vote before Election Day Gardner on court vacancy: Country needs to mourn Ginsburg 'before the politics begin' MORE (Colo.), Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsJeff Flake: Republicans 'should hold the same position' on SCOTUS vacancy as 2016 Trump supporters chant 'Fill that seat' at North Carolina rally Momentum growing among Republicans for Supreme Court vote before Election Day MORE (Maine) and Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisTrump supporters chant 'Fill that seat' at North Carolina rally Momentum growing among Republicans for Supreme Court vote before Election Day Vulnerable GOP incumbents embrace filling Supreme Court seat this year MORE (N.C.), have all said they would support reopening the government without wall funding. Trump's decision to deliver an Oval Office address marked an unusual embrace of custom for an untraditional president.

But it shows he had decided to follow, at least for now, his aides' recommendations to use his bully pulpit to press his case for the wall after spending much of the first two weeks of the shutdown secluded inside the White House.

In addition to his Capitol Hill visit, Trump plans to travel to McAllen, Texas, on Thursday to bolster his claims about a border in crisis.

Negotiations between Trump's team and congressional Democrats are also expected to pick back up Wednesday after a 48-hour pause.

Leaders from both parties have been invited to the White House Situation Room for another session with the president. Two similar meetings last week and staff-level talks over the weekend, however, failed to produce a breakthrough.