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US Politics

Analysis: Donald Trump runs into a wall as shutdown nears longest in US history

  • US President Donald Trump’s prime-time address offered no hope for a quick end to a government partial shutdown triggered by the wall funding row
  • Trump did steer away from earlier predictions that he might announce a national emergency
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 January, 2019, 3:45pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 January, 2019, 7:40pm

US President Trump has run into a wall. It’s the new Democrat House.

In the first Oval Office address of his presidency, Trump argued Tuesday that a dire security and humanitarian crisis at the Mexican border has made it imperative for Congress to approve his immigration proposal, including allocating US$5.7 billion for a wall he says will block illegal immigration and illicit drugs.

“How much more American blood must we shed before Congress does its job?” the president said in a blunt appeal to congressional Democrats after detailing horrific murders allegedly committed by illegal immigrants in California, Georgia and Maryland.

“To those who refused to compromise in the name of border security, I would ask, imagine if it was your child, your husband or your wife whose life was so cruelly shattered and totally broken.”

Trump has always been most comfortable speaking at unscripted campaign-style rallies where he draws from the energy of a raucous crowd.

This time, sitting at the historic Resolute desk and reading from a teleprompter, he was sombre and a little stiff at first, then spoke in darker and more emotional tones, though he didn’t deliver on his threat to declare the situation at the southern border a national emergency.

Donald Trump pleads on TV for border wall funds to stop shedding of ‘American blood’

Some of Trump’s conservative allies had pushed him to declare a national emergency. The move, his allies believe, may be Trump’s only path to meet his campaign promise to build the wall while Democrats have control of the House.

Even if it were blocked by courts, Trump might declare a face-saving victory with such an order and reopen the government.

The president’s unyielding demand for funds to build a wall, the signature promise of his 2016 presidential campaign, has smashed into the flat rejection of that idea by congressional Democrats. That battle, the knot at the centre of the partial government shutdown, looms as the first test of wills in the nation’s new divided government.

Trump’s 10-minute speech, which included several statements labelled as untrue or misleading by fact-checkers, was immediately followed by joint remarks by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, also carried on prime time by the major television networks.

The Democrats were all defiance, and surely not for the last time. Schumer accused Trump of trying to “govern by temper tantrum” while Pelosi decried the president’s remarks as “full of misinformation and even malice”.

One week after the 116th Congress was sworn in, any doubts that Trump may have had about how much different his tenure was going to be without unified Republican control of Congress should have disappeared.

The empowered Democratic opposition in the House now has the power not only to protest but also to pass legislation – measures designed to portray them as reasonable and the president as recalcitrant.

The House has scheduled a series of votes through the rest of the week to fund individual agencies, forcing Republicans to either break with the White House or to cast votes against financing food stamps and the Internal Revenue Service, which by the way could be sending out tax refunds now.

A quick history of Donald Trump’s evolving justifications for a border wall

The White House, clearly concerned about restive Republicans, dispatched Vice-President Mike Pence and others to Capitol Hill Tuesday to make their case and urge partisan unity.

So far, Trump is bearing the brunt of the blame for a shutdown that is taking an increasingly serious toll among federal workers, at national parks and elsewhere.

A nationwide Reuters/Ipsos Poll released Tuesday found Americans increasingly blaming Trump for the shutdown that has closed down about a fourth of the federal government and cost about 800,000 federal workers their paycheques, at least for now.

In the survey, conducted January 1-7, a 51 per cent majority said the president “deserves most of the blame” for the shutdown, up four percentage points from two weeks earlier. About a third, 32 per cent, blame congressional Democrats.

And the wall?

Just a third of those surveyed support a spending bill that includes funding for the wall, though Republicans overwhelmingly support the idea of a wall, and a majority back shutting down the government until Congress funds it.

Meanwhile, the partial government shutdown hit its 19th day Wednesday, closing in on the longest shutdown on record, which happened in a confrontation between President Bill Clinton and a new Republican-controlled House.

Donald Trump the latest US president to use Oval Office to address Americans with major speech

On Wednesday, congressional leaders from both parties are expected to meet at the White House to resume negotiations, and Trump has scheduled a trip to the border on Thursday.

“The only solution is for Democrats to pass the spending bill that defends our borders and reopens the government,” Trump declared, calling the two issues inextricably linked.

Schumer demanded that they be untied.

“Mr President, reopen the government and we can work to resolve our differences over border security,” he said.

Just after midnight Saturday, at Day 22, the shutdown would become be the longest in US history. After Tuesday’s stand-off, setting that record seemed to be a safe bet.

Tribune News Service and Bloomberg