President Donald Trump and Democratic leaders in Congress made clear Tuesday in nationally televised remarks that while each side supports border security efforts, they remain far apart on the scale and cost of what those measures should be.
The standoff has closed one quarter of the federal government since December 22.
Trump said in his address from the White House Oval Office it is up to Democrats to “pass a spending bill that defends our borders and reopens the government.” He suggested the issue could be resolved in a quick meeting, and that he has invited leaders in Congress to talks Wednesday.
In their joint response to Trump’s speech, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer pointed to a number of spending bills lawmakers have already passed that would reopen the government and provide money for border security. They say the shutdown continues only because Trump refuses to drop his demand for $5.7 billion in funding for a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border that they say would be expensive and ineffective.
Trump in his speech sought to make a case that not having a wall is putting Americans at risk of being victims of violence at the hands of people who enter the country illegally, and endangering them by allowing large amounts of illegal drugs to cross the border.
“Over the years, thousands of Americans have been brutally killed by those who illegally entered our country and thousands more lives will be lost if we don’t act right now,” Trump said. “This is a humanitarian crisis, a crisis of the heart and a crisis of the soul.”
He said hundreds more people are killed each year by drugs, particularly heroin, most of which, he said, comes into the United States through the southwestern border.
An October 2018 report by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency detailed the prevalence and source of a number of drugs, including those Trump mentioned Tuesday — heroin, fentanyl, methamphetamine and cocaine. In each case, the report said the vast majority of the drugs comes in through existing points of entry, most commonly in cars, which would not be stopped by a border wall.
Trump accused Democrats of not acknowledging what he calls the “crisis” at the border and says they refuse to support funding for border security and what he calls the “common sense” wall.
He said his administration’s proposal also includes technology upgrades to detect drugs and weapons, money to hire more border agents and to increase the number of beds available to house those detained trying to cross the border.
Democrats largely agree with those types of measures, and in their bills have backed spending $1.3 billion for scanning equipment and adding more border personnel. Pelosi on Tuesday called those proposals “smart, effective border security solutions.”
But she said it is “just plain wrong” for Trump to keep the government shut down because of the wall funding dispute.
“The fact is, the women and children at the border are not a security threat, they are a humanitarian challenge — a challenge that President Trump’s own cruel and counterproductive policies have only deepened,” Pelosi said. “And the fact is, President Trump must stop holding the American people hostage, must stop manufacturing a crisis, and must reopen the government.”
While the standoff continues, some 800,000 federal employees are furloughed or working without pay.