President Trump on Tuesday night addressed the nation from the Oval Office for the first time since assuming the presidency two years ago this month. The topic was border security, particularly the president’s belief that the only way to achieve it is through the construction of a literal wall separating the United States from Mexico. As expected, Trump’s remarks dramatically mischaracterized the reality at the border. He referred to illegal immigration as a “crisis” responsible for widespread murder, drug use and myriad other crimes across the United States.
Reading from a teleprompter and with the camera trained tightly on his face, the president tried to make an over-the-top emotional appeal for the proposed wall. “This is a humanitarian crisis, a crisis of the heart and a crisis of the soul,” Trump said, his beady eyes softening.
He went on to describe specific instances of Americans being killed by illegal immigrants, noting how they have been beaten with hammers, dismembered and decapitated. “I’ve held the hands of the weeping mothers and embraced the grief-stricken fathers,” Trump said. “I will never forget the pain in their eyes, the tremble in their voices and the sadness gripping their souls.”
It was creepy. It was pathetic. It was embarrassing for the networks that decided to air the address live.
— CBS News (@CBSNews) January 9, 2019
Though Trump in December told Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) that he would accept all responsibility for the government shutdown — collateral damage of the wall impasse — on Tuesday night he placed the blame squarely on Democrats. “The government remains shut down for one reason and one reason only: because democrats will not fund border security,” he said.
— Variety (@Variety) January 9, 2019
Trump did not declare a national emergency, which would in theory enable him to circumvent Congress and use the military to build the wall. The president floated the idea publicly while speaking with the media last Friday, and reports have since emerged that the White House has entertained the prospect. Several lawmakers have contended that such a declaration would not hold up in court, as illegal immigration is trending downward and the situation at the border in no way constitutes a national emergency, nor a threat to national security.
“I’ve been on the Intelligence Committee for over 10 years,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) tweeted Tuesday. “On terrorism and other threats, I’ve received more briefings from FBI, CIA, and DHS than I could count. How many times have any of them said we need a wall across the southern border? Zero.”
After Trump’s address concluded, Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) delivered a joint rebuttal behind a comically small podium, but it was Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), who served up the most forceful response to the president’s remarks.
We are not paying a $5 billion ransom note for your medieval 🏰 border wall.
And nothing you just said will change that cold, hard reality.
Get. Over. It.
— Hakeem Jeffries (@RepJeffries) January 9, 2019
Trump is expected to meet with congressional Democrats Wednesday to resume negotiations to re-open the government, which has been operating under a partial shutdown since December 21st. On Friday, Trump said that he was prepared to leave the government closed for “years” if Democrats continue to resist Trump’s demand for over $5 billion to fund the construction of the wall. Meanwhile, 800,000 federal employees will not receive a paycheck this week.
Trump announced his intention to address the nation on Monday, tweeting the would speak about “the Humanitarian and National Security crisis on our Southern Border.” Attention immediately turned to major television networks like NBC, CBS and ABC, which deliberated whether to air what was all but guaranteed to be a propaganda address chock full of lies and disinformation. Though Trump had derided the “Fake News Media” as the “real Opposition Party” and the “Enemy of the People” earlier on Monday, all of the above outlets ultimately agreed to air it.
In 2014, major networks refused to air an immigration speech by President Obama on the grounds that it would be “overtly political.”
A lot can change in five years.