Donald Trump makes case for border wall in prime-time Oval Office speech | News | DW | 09.01.2019
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Donald Trump makes case for border wall in prime-time Oval Office speech

Donald Trump has called a border wall with Mexico "absolutely critical" to national security, in an address to the nation amid a contentious government shutdown. Democrats have accused Trump of holding the US "hostage."

President Donald Trump has made a prime-time appeal to US citizens in an attempt to convince them of the humanitarian and security crisis on the southern border with Mexico.

In an unusually measured voice, Trump said there was a "growing humanitarian and security crisis" at the US-Mexico border and said a border wall was "absolutely critical" to national security. To support his claims, he listed off several graphic examples of crimes attributed to "illegal aliens," as noted by Toronto Star Washington correspondent Daniel Dale.

The president, who repeated his demand for $5.7 billion (5 billion euros) in funding for a border wall, said he was urging Democrats to return to the White House to meet with him, saying it was "immoral" for "politicians to do nothing."

However, the president stopped short of declaring a national emergency, which could have led to the project being funded by bypassing Congress. 

In a rebuttal by the Democrats, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the president should stop holding the country "hostage" with the ongoing partial government shutdown. Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer stressed that they supported stronger border security, but not an "expensive and ineffective" border wall.

"The symbol of America should be the Statue of Liberty, not a 30-foot wall," said Schumer. He accused Trump of using the Oval Office to "manufacture a crisis," and called on him to sign bills that would reopen the government while negotiations over border security went ahead.

Pelosi: Shutdown full of 'misinformation and malice'

Trump made the speech on the 18th day of the shutdown over funding for his most famous campaign promise, the wall on the border between the US and Mexico. In her speech, Pelosi called the shutdown "senseless" and said it has been full of "misinformation and malice" from the president.

Thus far, some 800,000 federal workers have been furloughed or forced to work without pay as a result of the standoff. Many millions more could soon be affected due to lack of funding for food programs and public housing.

Trump, a self-proclaimed billionaire, claimed recently he could relate to those going without pay and unable to buy groceries or make rent and utilities payments, but said they will have to "make adjustments."

Read more: Trump administration downgrades EU mission to US

Watch video 02:22

US government shutdown: The human cost

No end in sight

The country's national parks and judicial system have also been thrown into chaos over the fight, which shows no signs of abating. Trump has in recent days said that the shutdown could go on "for years." The president has specifically tried to paint Democrats as the belligerent party, labeling them as obstructionists.

Democrat leaders have insisted that Trump forget the issue of the wall for now and reopen the government instead. Although Democrats have said they would be willing to give the president $1.6 billion (€1.4 billion) for border security, he has insisted he will accept nothing less than the $5 billion he is asking for, even going so far as to demand $5.7 billion in recent days.

Read more: Trump will be impeached in 2019, says 'prediction professor'

A self-made crisis?

The administration has claimed the situation at the US-Mexico border has reached a crisis point, but opponents say this is not the case, and that the worsening situation is the result of Trump's shutdown tactics.

The president's remarks were also aimed at another group of viewers. Increasingly, Republicans are concerned about the long-term political ramifications of the fight on their own popularity, and by extension their re-election chances in 2020.

Read more: 2018: The year Trumpian disruption rocked German politics

Unfounded claims

Last week, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said her agency had encountered more than 3,000 suspected terrorists trying to enter the United States at the southern border, a claim for which she offered no evidence. Nevertheless, Trump administration spokespersons have regularly repeated such claims in an effort to convince citizens of the urgency of a border wall. 

The border has been the scene of a number of incidents in which US authorities have fired tear gas into crowds of immigrants on the Mexican side of the existing border fence. Two children have also died in border patrol custody.

Illegal crossings dropped to less than 400,000 last year, from 1.6 million in 2000, yet asylum and immigration processing delays have caused huge backups at the border creating serious problems for those attempting to enter the US. Critics also point out that many of those who are in the country illegally are not there because they entered illegally, but rather because they have overstayed their visas.

Read more: Opinion: Trump uses old tricks in shutdown talks with new Congress

Run for the border

Critics have called the president's insistence upon a wall an obsession driven by ego and racist tendencies, but he and his administration maintain he is simply concerned with protecting American citizens.

Though Trump has sought to sell his new proposal to build the wall of steel slats rather than concrete as a concession to Democrats, lawmakers from that party have said they are opposed because they see the wall as immoral and ineffective.

Democrats have called the wall a grossly outdated solution to a 21st century problem, and insist border security can be improved by hiring more border agents and improving technology.

On Wednesday, Trump and Vice President Mike Pence will meet with Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill, before the president heads south to visit the border on Thursday.

Read more: 'Migrant caravan was my only chance' for a better life

New Manafort allegation revealed

Earlier Tuesday, a court filing revealed an allegation that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort shared polling data during the 2016 presidential campaign with Konstantin Kilimnik, a former business partner accused of having ties to Russian intelligence.

The allegation — accidentally revealed in a defense filing that was meant to be redacted — is the first time prosecutors with special counsel Robert Mueller's office have accused Manafort of not only sharing election-related information with Russian contacts, but also of later lying about it.

The filing raises the possibility Russia might have used inside campaign information to meddle in the 2016 election in favor of Trump.

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js, rc/cmk (AP, Reuters)

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