Trump talks of ‘crisis of heart and soul’ at the southern border

President Donald Trump used the gravitas of an Oval Office national address to blame Democrats for the ongoing government shutdown and seek $5.7 billion for a wall , telling Americans there was a “humanitarian crisis — a crisis of the heart and a crisis of the soul” unfolding at the border.

Democrats pushed back just minutes after, also in a national address, laying the blame for the shutdown back at the President’s feet, accusing him of throwing “temper tantrums” to have his way, manufacturing a crisis and misleading Americans with his counterfactual claims.

Fact-checkers, an army of them ranged across news publications, counted off multiple false and misleading claims in the President’s short, 9-minute speech which he had read off a teleprompter, and not ad-libbed, which is when he has tended to get most adventurous with the truth.

An Oval Office address has been used by US president to mark momentous moments for the nation — President Barack Obama used one to announce the end of combat operations in Iraq — and Trump’s choice of the grandeur and gravitas of the setting had triggered speculation that he could announce a national emergency.

He didn’t, and chose to make a case, instead, to the American people that the nation was facing a crisis on the border and that Democrats were denying him the funding to deal with it and had precipitated a shutdown to prevent him from what he had been elected to do — end illegal immigration through the southern border.

“This is a humanitarian crisis — a crisis of the heart and a crisis of the soul,” the President said, as he reeled off statistics of killings, sexual crimes, assaults and trafficking to flesh out the crisis, with heartrending accounts of victims of illegal immigrants — such as Indian-origin police officer Ronil Singh, who was killed by an illegal immigrant in California on Christmas eve.

The President said he had proposed a plan to the Congress with a series of steps to boost border security. Among them, and he mentioned it last, was a request for $5.7 billion for a wall, the dispute over which has partially shut down the federal government for 19 days on Wednesday.

“At the request of Democrats, it will be a steel barrier rather than a concrete wall,” the President said, in one of the many problematic claims in his short, prepared address.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of NY, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif. pose for photographers after speaking on Capitol Hill in response President Donald Trump’s address on Tuesday. (AP)
Democrats have not made any such suggestion, and have opposed any barrier at the border. Chuck Schumer, the top Senate Democrat, in a rebuttal jointly delivered with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said he would like the United States to be seen as the land of the Statue of Liberty and not a 30-foot wall.

Pelosi, who delivered the first rebuttal, slammed Trump for holding “hostage critical services for the health, safety and well-being of the American people and withhold the paychecks of 800,000 innocent workers across the nation — many of them veterans”.

“He promised to keep government shut down for ‘months or years’ — no matter whom it hurts. That’s just plain wrong.”

As for Tuesday night, the two sides remained as far apart in the dispute as they were on December 22, the first day of the partial shutdown because of which 800,000 federal employees have been furloughed or made to work without pay.

The President is meeting Congressional leaders at the White House Wednesday afternoon in another attempt to break the stalemate and end the shutdown.