WASHINGTON: A cornered President Donald Trump will hold talks with congressional leaders Wednesday over his demand for a US-Mexico border wall, with his options running out for ending a prolonged partial government shutdown over the impasse.
Trump gave a nine-minute prime-time address Tuesday night to make the case for his signature domestic policy idea, but made no concessions to opposition Democrats, who have rejected funding for the project.
The impasse has left 800,000 federal employees without pay, and the partial shutdown that started December 22 is now approaching the longest on record.
“We MUST fix our Southern Border!” Trump tweeted Wednesday morning, ahead of planned meetings with lawmakers later in the day.
But there were few signs of a breakthrough.
“Neither side feel they can cave and not pay a terrible political price,” Republican Senator Marco Rubio said on Fox News.
“Unfortunately, two things caught in the middle are securing our borders, and the men and women in federal government,” he added.
One possible if temporary solution is individually funding parts of the government that are currently without money — action that James Clyburn, a top House Democrat, said would get underway Wednesday in the Democratic-controlled chamber.
But there was no indication the legislation would be brought to a vote in the Republican-held Senate, much less signed by the president.
In his Oval Office address, Trump, apparently hoping to claim the moral high ground, said he wanted to bridge the political divide in what could be the defining power struggle of his turbulent presidency.
Get this done
“I have invited congressional leadership to the White House tomorrow to get this done. Hopefully, we can rise above partisan politics in order to support national security,” he said.
Despite the softer tone, Trump also spent much of the speech doubling down on his controversial message — popular among his right-wing base — that illegal immigration at the US-Mexican border puts American lives in danger.
“How much more American blood must we shed before Congress does its job? For those who refuse to compromise in the name of border security, I would ask to imagine if it was your child, your husband, or your wife whose life was so cruelly shattered and totally broken,” he said.
In an instant rebuttal, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said the real problem was Trump’s “cruel and counter-productive policies” that have made the border ever more dangerous for vulnerable migrants, including young families.
Fact-checking teams at US media outlets quickly took issue with a number of Trump’s assertions — for instance, his vastly overstated claim that every day US agents at the border with Mexico “encounter thousands of illegal immigrants trying to enter our country.”
Visit to Mexico border
Also wrong were Trump’s assertions that 90 percent of the heroin entering the US crosses over from Mexico and that Mexico, indirectly, via a new trade agreement with the US and Canada, would end up paying for a wall, the Times said.
Salaries for large numbers of employees were put on hold when Trump refused to sign government spending bills as a way of trying to strongarm the Democrats into funding his wall.
Pelosi, who is speaker of the House, accused Trump of “holding the American people hostage.”
Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate, accused Trump of governing “by temper tantrum” and using government workers “for leverage.”
There had been speculation that Trump might give way in parts of his speech, for example lowering the sticker price for the wall, or offering Democrats flexibility on other areas of immigration policy.
However, it was also significant that he did not announce a national emergency, on the theory he could then use military construction money to build the wall, circumventing the Congress.
Democrats and some Republicans warned that this would be seen as a dangerous escalation of the row and would be challenged in court.
Trump will follow up his speech with a rare trip to the Mexico border on Thursday, but showed little enthusiasm for either the Oval Office speech or the border trip during an off-the-record lunch Tuesday with television anchors, The New York Times reported.
“It’s not going to change a damn thing, but I’m still doing it,” Trump said of the border visit, according to the Times.