President Donald Trump will tell Americans in a televised address today that the US-Mexico border is in “crisis” and Congress must approve construction of a wall to end a government shutdown now in its 18th day.
After weeks of lashing out at Democratic opponents, mostly via Twitter and impromptu press conferences, Trump will deploy the presidency’s biggest PR gun: a formal address to the nation at 9pm local time (1pm AEDT) on live television from the White House’s Oval Office.
Trump’s evening remarks will be followed by a rebuttal from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who strongly oppose the wall and have repeatedly called on Trump to reopen the rest of government while border negotiations continue.
Television networks airing Trump’s remarks have committed to sharing the response.
Vice President Mike Pence told ABC that Trump will lay out the “real humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border.”
But the White House remained coy about whether Trump will declare a national emergency allowing him to bypass Congress and order his controversial wall project to go ahead using military resources — a move that would send already heated political temperatures to boiling point.
“He’s not saying yes or no,” top adviser Kellyanne Conway told journalists at the White House a few hours before the speech was due. He’s “considering it.”
Trump wants $5.7 billion to construct a wall or fence along the Mexican border. Democrats in Congress have refused, saying he is hyping up immigration issues to appeal to his right-wing base.
The US President and other administration officials have said the situation at the border has reached a crisis point, both on security and humanitarian grounds.
But critics say the security risks are overblown and the administration is at least partly to blame for the humanitarian situation. While the number of illegal border crossings is down from 1.6 million in 2000 to less than 400,000 last year, the number of families coming over the border has risen sharply. Many are seeking asylum, which is greatly straining the system.
With Democrats not bending to Trump’s demands, he has refused to sign off on a broader spending bill, leaving some 800,000 federal employees and many more contractors without pay.
That partial government shutdown has brought Washington’s partisan dysfunction into ordinary Americans’ homes across the country, raising the stakes for politicians who must face their voters as the chaos drags on.
‘FULL OF MALICE’: DEMOCRATS LASH TRUMP AHEAD OF SPEECH
Democrats, who ended the Trump presidency’s dominance of domestic politics when they seized the House of Representatives from his Republicans in November, cried foul before a word was spoken.
“If his past statements are an indication (the speech) will be full of malice and misinformation,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the senior Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, said in a statement.
House majority leader Steny Hoyer said on Tuesday that he believes Trump does not have legal authority to declare a national emergency and unilaterally build a southwest border wall. Doing so “certainly could” be an abuse of power, Hoyer said.
Trump’s gambit is that the solemn setting of the Oval Office will give him back the momentum on the Mexico wall issue which helped him get elected in 2016 and has become an obsessive goal for supporters. He will follow up with a rare trip to the Mexico border itself on Thursday.
But with many Americans far from sold on Trump’s lurid claims about illegal immigrants, criminals and terrorists overwhelming the border, the speech faces its own high barrier: credibility.