U.S. President Donald Trump and congressional leaders are meeting again Wednesday, but there were no signs they were ready to compromise over Trump’s demand for funding for construction of a barrier wall along the U.S.-Mexican border, a dispute that has led to a 19-day partial government shutdown.
Trump is having lunch on Capitol Hill with Senate Republicans and later meeting at the White House with both Republican and Democratic congressional leaders, the day after Trump called for construction of the border barrier in a televised address to the nation from the Oval Office, his first during his two-year presidency.
Minutes later, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer gave a rebuttal, saying the wall was unnecessary and imploring Trump to reopen the quarter of the government that has been shuttered since Dec. 22, while talks continue over a border wall Trump says is necessary to thwart illegal immigration. It is the second longest government shutdown in U.S. history.
It is the second longest government shutdown in U.S. history, furloughing 800,000 government workers or forcing them to work without pay. In past shutdowns, civil servants were paid retroactively once the impasses ended.
Trump said on Twitter, “Thank you for soooo many nice comments regarding my Oval Office speech. A very interesting experience!”
In another tweet, he reiterated the call to “fix” the southern border.
He told reporters, “We have to do what’s right at our border.”
Trump said he still may declare a national emergency to build the wall without congressional approval, adding, “My threshold will be if I can’t make a deal with unreasonable people.”
Democrats have offered Trump $1.3 billion in new funding for border security, although none for a wall. But Trump has demanded more than $5 billion for a barrier, which he now says could be steel slats rather than the solid concrete.
During his successful run for the White House in 2016, Trump’s most fervent supporters cheered his call for a wall that he said Mexico would pay for.
Reaction from Democrats
In their rebuttal, Pelosi and Schumer derided Trump’s claim that the U.S.’s southern neighbor would pay for the wall, instead of U.S. taxpayers.
“The president of the United States — having failed to get Mexico to pay for his ineffective, unnecessary border wall, and unable to convince the Congress or the American people to foot the bill — has shut down the government,” Schumer said. “American democracy doesn’t work that way. We don’t govern by temper tantrum.”
Other Democratic senators also said they were unmoved by Trump’s demand for a barrier.
“I didn’t hear the president say anything that would change my mind. We should be re-opening the government,” Senator Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire told VOA.
“I think we ought to solve this shutdown. It’s ridiculous,” said Senator Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats.
Senator Doug Jones of Alabama said, “We need to dial back the rhetoric and not use fear. Let’s talk strictly about border security in the long run, not just a short-term fix. We need to figure out how to get this government open, number one, and fix our borders, number two.”
Reaction from Republicans
Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana called Trump’s comments about border security “very appropriate.” He said Schumer and Pelosi’s support for border security but not a wall was “juvenile … very disingenuous. I think most Americans understand that it’s purely political.”
Senator John Boozman of Arkansas told VOA he thinks that a compromise might eventually be reached. “I think the president will wind up with not all that he wants,” Boozman said, “and Democrats are going to have to give some. I think that’s really the solution.”
Trump said in his address that it is up to Democrats to “pass a spending bill that defends our borders and reopens the government.” He suggested the issue could be resolved in a quick meeting, but past discussions at the White House have not ended the stalemate.
In their joint response to Trump’s speech, Pelosi and Schumer pointed to a number of spending bills lawmakers have already passed that would reopen the government and provide money for border security. They say the shutdown continues only because Trump refuses to drop his demand for $5.7 billion in wall funding.
In his speech, Trump sought to make a case that not having a wall is putting Americans at risk of being victims of violence at the hands of people who enter the country illegally, and endangering them by allowing large amounts of illegal drugs to cross the border.
“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 don’t act right now,” Trump said. “This is a humanitarian crisis, a crisis of the heart and a crisis of the soul.”
He said hundreds more people are killed each year by drugs, particularly heroin, most of which, he said, comes into the United States through the southwestern border.
An October 2018 report by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency detailed the prevalence and source of a number of drugs, including those Trump mentioned Tuesday — heroin, fentanyl, methamphetamine and cocaine. In each case, the report said the vast majority of the drugs comes in through existing points of entry, most commonly in cars, which would not be stopped by a border wall.
Trump accused Democrats of not acknowledging what he calls the “crisis” at the border and says they refuse to support funding for border security and what he calls the “common sense” wall.