House Armed Services chairman: Trump's border wall obsession rooted in 'racism'

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Pentagon watchdog says Syria withdrawal hurt ISIS fight | Vindman testifies on third day of public hearings | Lawmakers to wrap up defense bill talks this week Lawmakers expect to finish defense policy bill negotiations this week Electric Avenue: The Democrats' crusade to rob from the poor to build electric cars for the rich MORE (D-Wash.) blasted President TrumpDonald John TrumpDem senator says Zelensky was 'feeling the pressure' to probe Bidens 2020 Dems slam Trump decision on West Bank settlements Trump calls latest impeachment hearings 'a great day for Republicans' MORE's insistence on building a border wall, saying that his talk of an immigration crisis at the southern border is "rooted in xenophobia and racism."

“He wants to scare people about the hordes coming from south of our border," Smith said in an interview with The Seattle Times published Tuesday. "It’s rooted in xenophobia and racism and an anti-immigrant bias — it is not rooted in fact."


"He is trying to demagogue the immigration issue, and that is why the government is shut down," Smith added.

The White House fired back on Wednesday, saying in a statement to The Hill that "Smith’s disgusting claims are as grossly ignorant as they are wildly offensive."

"The President’s immigration policy is based on what the brave men and women of DHS, ICE and CBP tell us they need to protect the American people. It’s unfortunate that the Congressman refuses to acknowledge what the President, career government officials, and rational sane people already know: physical barriers save lives,” the statement added.

Smith's remarks came as the partial government shutdown, which began Dec. 22, entered its third work week. Democrats and Trump remain at odds over congressional funding for the president's proposed border wall.

Trump has demanded more than $5 billion in a government spending bill to help build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Democrats oppose providing those funds.

Smith has repeatedly criticized Trump over his wall demand, and he told The Seattle Times that the president "just wants us to give him $5.6 billion so he can falsely claim that he’s maintained a campaign promise."

"That is breathtakingly irresponsible," Smith said. "So no, we’re not going to give him a single penny for a wall that even he can’t explain. He might as well ask us to ceremonially burn $5.6 billion on the White House lawn as some kind of sacrifice to the gods to allow the government to continue to function fully.”

Trump has threatened to declare a national emergency to build a wall along the southern border. Smith acknowledged this week that there's a "provision in law" that allows a president to declare an emergency. 

But he said Trump would immediately face legal challenges if he were to take that step.

"This would be a terrible use of Department of Defense dollars," he said on ABC's "This Week." "The president spends most of his time talking about how we’re not spending enough on national security. Now he wants to take $20 billion out of the defense budget to build a wall, which by the way is not going to improve our border security.”

Trump is scheduled to deliver a prime-time address from the Oval Office on Tuesday to discuss what he referred to in a tweet as "the Humanitarian and National Security crisis on our Southern Border."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) are expected to give a joint response immediately following Trump's address.

– This story was updated Jan. 9 at 10:27 a.m. to reflect comments from the White House