WASHINGTON : President Donald Trump called on Congress on Tuesday to give him $5.7 billion this year to help build a wall on the US border with Mexico but stopped short of declaring a national emergency to pay for the wall with military funds.
Facing Democratic opposition in Congress to a wall, Trump said in a prime-time televised speech that there was a growing security crisis at the US-Mexico border.
Using blunt language in an attempt to win public support, Trump said illegal immigrants and drugs flowing across the southern border posed a serious threat to American safety.
“How much more American blood will be shed before Congress does its job?” Trump said after recounting gruesome details of murders he said were committed by illegal immigrants.
But after days of hinting he might use presidential powers to declare an emergency as a first step towards directing money for the wall without congressional approval, Trump said he would continue seeking a solution to the impasse with Congress.
Trump is scheduled to visit the southwest border on Thursday and it was not clear whether he still might choose to make the national emergency declaration.
Trump’s remarks came 18 days into a partial government shutdown precipitated by his demand for the wall, which he has said is needed to keep out illegal immigrants and drugs.
Democrats and other opponents of a border wall had threatened to take legal action if Trump issued the order.
They say he is using false claims and manufacturing a crisis to carry out his 2016 presidential campaign promise for a wall that he said at the time would be paid for by Mexico.
Hoping to demonstrate flexibility during his nearly 10-minute speech from the White House Oval Office, Trump said of the border barrier he wants built: “At the request of the Democrats it will be a steel barrier and not a concrete wall.”
Stop holding Americans ‘hostage’ over shutdown, Pelosi
The Democrats rejected Trump’s fear-mongering as “misinformation and even malice,” with Pelosi blasting the president’s “obsession with forcing American taxpayers to waste billions of dollars on an expensive and ineffective wall.”
Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer, standing with Pelosi in the US Capitol, accused Trump of throwing a “temper tantrum” over the border, where he “appealed to fear, not facts.”
“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,” Schumer said.
“The symbol of America should be the Statue of Liberty, not a 30-foot wall,” he concluded.
Rank-and-file lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle weighed in quickly on social media, with Republicans praising Trump for outlining the facts of a national security crisis on the border and Democrats attacking him for misleading and dividing Americans.
“Throughout history, presidents have used an Oval Office address to bring the country together,” tweeted Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
“Tonight, Trump used it to stoke fear and division.”