WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump will seize the power of the bully pulpit this week amid the ongoing government shutdown, making his case for border wall funding in a prime-time Oval Office address that he will quickly follow up with a visit to the southern border.
The back-to-back events reflect a new attempt by the President to cast the deadlock over immigration as a national security crisis, a characterization that Democrats reject but which the President’s aides believe will bolster support for a border wall.
The President tweeted he will “address the nation” Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET “on the Humanitarian and National Security crisis on our Southern border,” two days before he is scheduled to visit the border. Trump indicated to aides over the weekend that he was interested in delivering a prime-time address to call attention to the issue, but it was not immediately clear whether TV networks had agreed to clear airtime for a presidential address.
Trump’s Monday afternoon tweet about his plans to address the country come as the government shutdown begins its third week, with Trump and congressional Democrats at an impasse over Trump’s demand for nearly $6 billion in federal funding to build a wall on the southern border.
A White House official said Trump wants to make his case about the government shutdown and wall funding in advance of Thursday’s border trip.
Bill Shine, the deputy chief of staff for communications, was set to meet with aides Monday afternoon to discuss the address. The New York Times first reported Trump’s desire to address the nation.
Two days later, Trump will head to the US-Mexico border to “meet with those on the front lines of the national security and humanitarian crisis,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders announced Monday morning on Twitter.
The President’s decision to deliver a prime-time address and visit the southern border came after some of his allies warned him his arguments about immigration aren’t resonating, according to two people familiar with the matter.
In conversations over the past two weeks, some of the President’s advisers have told him that simply tweeting and speaking off-the-cuff wouldn’t alone suffice in convincing Americans a border wall is necessary. Inside the White House, some view the quiet week between Christmas and New Year’s Day as a lost opportunity that could have been used to drive home an urgent message about the necessity of a border wall while Congress was out of town.
Some of Trump’s aides view his “build the wall” slogan as no longer having the same impact it once did during the campaign because Trump has used it so frequently. The phrase lacks the urgency needed to break the shutdown impasse, some of Trump’s advisers have told him.
That’s prompted an effort inside the White House to develop plans for higher-profile messaging events that would allow Trump to underscore what he says is a border crisis.
Trump sought to begin executing a new strategy when he appeared in the White House briefing room with border patrol officials last Thursday, believing the setting would lend some authority to his message. But afterward some aides viewed the event as a dud that didn’t have the breakthrough effect that was desired.
A trip to the border has long been planned, and was tentatively slated at one point to occur last week. That was eventually moved to this week.
Discussions about a prime-time address have also been floating around the West Wing for a week or so, according to the people familiar with the matter. The idea has been championed by acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, and was a topic of discussion at Sunday’s senior staff retreat at Camp David.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has flatly rejected providing any funding for a border wall to resolve the stalemate. And Trump has threatened to drag on the shutdown for months or even years if he does not get funding for the border wall.
As the shutdown continues, more Americans are beginning to see its effects. Hundreds of thousands of federal workers are furloughed or working without pay. Transportation Security Administration officers at major airports around the country are not showing up for work. Conditions at national parks are deteriorating and the Department of Housing and Urban Development is running out of money for a key housing program.
But for now, both sides are sticking to their positions and negotiations over the weekend between Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic congressional staffers yielded little progress.
Illegal immigration has been a galvanizing issue for Trump’s political base and Trump is making the calculus that the government shutdown is his best chance to pressure Democrats into ceding on funding for the border wall. But opposition to the border wall — which Trump has now said would be built out of steel slats, rather than concrete — has also become a unifying issue for Democrats, who gained control of the House this month.
Despite public polling indicating a majority of Americans oppose the construction of a border wall, Trump and his top advisers have continued to press their case.
Trump administration officials have pointed to a surge in migrant families crossing the border to make their case that the situation at the southern border is reaching critical proportions.
But Trump and his top officials have also pointed to misleading statistics to suggest terrorists are attempting to enter the United States through the southern border. Sanders, for example, falsely claimed on Sunday that “nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists come into our country illegally,” even though the overwhelming majority of those individuals are blocked from entering the US at airports.
Pressed about the terrorism claims during an impromptu Rose Garden news conference last week, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen pointed to another statistic: that more than 3,000 “special interest aliens” have tried to enter the US through the southern border, suggesting those individuals “have travel patterns that are identified as terrorist travel patterns or they have known or suspected ties to terrorism.”
But those individuals could also simply be coming from countries “where terrorism is prevalent, or nations that are hostile to the United States,” as Nielsen’s predecessor John Kelly previously defined the term.