Following a blood-soaked speech by President Trump making the case for his Mexican border wall Tuesday night, Democratic leaders appeared before the nation to make their brief and fairly simple counterpoint: The White House has taken the government hostage and hurt people here in America with a pointless government shutdown, while manufacturing a border crisis and recklessly stoking fears through misinformation.
New House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer stood side by side before the cameras to contradict Trump in a short five-minute statement.
“Sadly, much of what we have heard from President Trump throughout this senseless shutdown has been full of misinformation and even malice,” Pelosi said at the beginning of her remarks. “The president has chosen fear.”
“The fact is, President Trump has chosen to hold 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,” she continued. “He promised to keep government shut down for ‘months or years,’ no matter whom it hurts.”
“That’s just plain wrong,” Pelosi said.
She added, “The women and children at the border are not a security threat, they are a humanitarian challenge” — and alluded to the actual crisis that the administration created last year by separating parents from their children at the US-Mexico border.
Schumer followed the same themes, noting that hundreds of thousands of federal workers will soon miss a paycheck because of the ongoing shutdown.
“We don’t govern by temper tantrum. No president should pound the table and demand he gets his way or else the government shuts down, hurting millions of Americans who are treated as leverage,” he said. “There is no excuse for hurting millions of Americans over a policy difference.”
Trump appeared in a rare primetime television address and warned about a “growing humanitarian and security crisis” at the southern border. He linked a record number of overdose deaths from opioids to a lack of border security and the need for his signature wall. He evoked criminal gangs, sexual assault, and a few singular stories of violent crimes perpetrated by people in the United States illegally to paint a dire picture of the border.
The brief address was typical of the president’s approach to the crisis: hyperbole, violent imagery, and blaming Democrats for being willing to take the tough steps that, he says, are necessary to secure the border.
“How much American blood must we shed for Congress to do its job?” Trump said. “The government remains shut down for one reason, and one reason only: because Democrats will not fund border security.”
About 25 percent of the federal government has been shut down for nearly three weeks now. Roughly 800,000 federal workers have been furloughed or asked to work without pay. National parks and Smithsonian museums have been closed. Food stamps and other federal assistance for new moms and infants have not yet been cut off — but they could be if the shutdown is allowed to drag on into the next month.
This is a mess the president wanted. Trump, in an abrupt reversal after the House and Senate had already passed their government spending plan in December, demanded that his long-promised border wall with Mexico be funded. Democrats, who have since assumed their House majority and also hold leverage in the Senate through the filibuster, have refused. They argue that Trump is exaggerating the crisis at the moment — which he has done before — and that they refuse to negotiate while one-fourth of the government is in effect being held hostage.
Following Trump’s speech on Tuesday night, Democrats repeated those points. Trump also largely repeated himself. Nothing seemed likely to change in the televised exchange of words.
The House has already passed another comprehensive spending plan under the new Democratic majority, and plans to start passing piecemeal spending bills this week to turn up the pressure on Senate Republicans and the president. Congressional leaders are also set to visit the White House on Wednesday for yet another discussion about how to end the impasse.
The White House has had an ever-changing series of demands and offers to end the shutdown. Most recently, as Vox’s Dara Lind reported, the administration has said it still wants $5.7 billion for border security but offered about $800 million to help improve the care for vulnerable families who have arrived at the US-Mexico border.
To date, Pelosi and Schumer have shown no interest in giving in to the president who appeared before the nation on Tuesday and sought to make his case for the border wall that came to define his 2016 presidential campaign. Their brief response after Trump’s address gave no indication that will change anytime soon.