With new polls showing that a solid majority of Americans blame President Donald Trump and Republican members of Congress for the partial government shutdown, Trump, his congressional backers, and administration officials are deploying increasing misleading and incoherent arguments to justify the president’s position.
During a White House event on Wednesday afternoon, Trump touted the nation’s gradual, decades-long decrease in violent crime — while making a case that if a wall isn’t built, crime will soon be out of control.
“If we don’t do it, this country is going to be worse than at any time in our history in terms of drug infestation and in terms of crime,” Trump said. “And our crime numbers are very good.”
In other words, Trump wanted to remind people that crime has been under control without a wall, while arguing that a wall is needed to reduce crime.
Trump’s comments capped off a day in which his supporters made a string of flawed arguments in support of the wall.
First there was House Homeland Security Committee member Rep. Clay Higgins (R-LA). During a CNN interview on Wednesday morning, Higgins resorted to claiming he’s privy to secret data indicating the number of unauthorized border crossings is actually increasing. Data from Customs and Border Protection shows the opposite — that crossings have steadily declined since the early aughts.
“I have my own numbers,” Higgins said after he was presented with a graph showing unauthorized border crossings have actually decreased over the past decade.
Higgins tried to dodge that inconvenient fact about border crossings throughout the interview. First, he claimed the numbers that really matters are unauthorized border-crossers who are not apprehended, not those who are. But host Poppy Harlow challenged him.
“How do you count the ones you don’t catch?” she asked him.
“We’re counting the ones that we do catch,” he replied, seemingly oblivious to the fact that publicly available data about “the ones that we do catch” doesn’t support his position.
Later in the day, it was White House counselor Kellyanne Conway’s turn. Conway went on Fox News and attempted to make a case that Democrats who supported legislation to address the opioid crisis last year have an obligation to support a border wall.
“I think we can all agree since every single Democrat in the House and Senate who voted voted for the historic drug legislation last year, they have already said drugs are a problem through that vote,” Conway said. “So when it comes doing so at the southern border what they’re doing in their own communities, why the big fat no?”
But as experts have pointed out, the opioid crisis and the wall have nothing to do with each other. In fact, the majority of drugs smuggled into the country through the southern border come through ports of entry, and a wall would do nothing to prevent that.
Trump, meanwhile, continued to try to make a case for the border wall on the basis of crime.
BUILD A WALL & CRIME WILL FALL!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 23, 2019
In fact, a plethora of studies indicate undocumented immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than native-born Americans.
“Isn’t it really that you just want the leverage?”
Though Trump decided against proclaiming a national emergency that he could use to try and build a border wall without Congress appropriating money for it, he still wants Americans to believe that the situation at the border is a crisis justifying the ongoing government shutdown.
But there’s no compelling reason Trump couldn’t reopen the government, then try and negotiate with Congress for additional border security funds. The difficulty of the administration’s position was apparent on Sunday, when Vice President Mike Pence struggled to explain why Trump won’t support legislation that would reopen the government during an interview on Fox News Sunday.
“You could open the government tomorrow,” host Chris Wallace told him. “The House has passed bills to open the government tomorrow. Why not sign them and reopen the government, and then you can negotiate about this?”
Pence seemed to be caught off-guard.
“Well, because — I mean, I mean, frankly, Chris, what the American people want us to do is to work on their priorities, and the Americans people want us to secure the border —”
“No,” Wallace interjected. “Isn’t it really that you just want the leverage?”
Chris Wallace presses Pence: "You could open the government tomorrow" ... "Isn't it really that you just want the leverage?" pic.twitter.com/4hubr65EIi— Matt Shuham (@mattshuham) January 20, 2019
Indeed, Pence’s claim that Americans prioritize securing the border is not backed up by recent polling. As I detailed earlier today, new Politico/Morning Consult and CBS News polls show Trump’s position on the partial shutdown is less popular than ever, and is dragging his approval rating to historic lows.