In an Oval Office address, President Trump again appealed for $5.7 billion to build a physical barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border, calling illegal immigration "a crisis of the heart and a crisis of the soul." After his remarks, Democratic congressional leaders spoke, followed by analysis from Judy Woodruff, Amna Nawaz, Lisa Desjardins, Yamiche Alcindor and the Cook Political Report's Amy Walter.
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Good evening. I'm Judy Woodruff.
Welcome to our special "PBS NewsHour" live coverage of President Trump's address to the nation, and the Democratic response by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
This comes on the 18th day of a shutdown of the federal government, after the two sides were unable to agree on a funding plan.
President Trump has said he won't go along with any proposal until there is money to pay for a wall on the U.S. southern border.
As of tonight, this is the second longest-lasting shutdown in U.S. history, and the effects are being felt across the country.
This will be President Trump's first address from the Oval Office in the White House. We're waiting to see if the president will offer any new proposals or new ideas to break this gridlock.
Our Yamiche Alcindor is at the White House tonight. Lisa Desjardins will be joining us from Capitol Hill, Amna Nawaz joining me here at the table in our studio, along with Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report.
I will be talking to all of them after we hear from the president, and then again after we hear from the Democratic leaders.
Again, President Trump's first address from the Oval Office. Here he is.
My fellow Americans, tonight, I am speaking to you because there is a growing humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border. Every day, Customs and Border Patrol agents encounter thousands of illegal immigrants trying to enter our country. We are out of space to hold them and we have no way to promptly return them back home to their country.
America proudly welcomes millions of lawful immigrants who enrich our society and contribute to our nation. But all Americans are hurt by uncontrolled illegal migration. It strains public resources and drives down jobs and wages.
Among those hardest-hit are African-Americans and Hispanic Americans. Our southern border is a pipeline for vast quantities of illegal drugs, including meth, heroin, cocaine and fentanyl.
Every week, 300 of our citizens are killed by heroin alone, 90 percent of which floods across from our southern border. More Americans will die from drugs this year than were killed in the entire Vietnam War.
In the last two years, ICE officers made 266,000 arrests of aliens with criminal records, including those charged or convicted of 100,000 assaults, 30,000 sex crimes, and 4,000 violent killings.
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. This is a humanitarian crisis, a crisis of the heart and a crisis of the soul.
Last month, 20,000 migrant children were illegally brought into the United States, a dramatic increase. These children are used as human pawns by vicious coyotes and ruthless gangs.
One in three women are sexually assaulted on the dangerous trek up through Mexico. Women and children are the biggest victims, by far, of our broken system. This is the tragic reality of illegal immigration on our southern border. This is the cycle of human suffering that I am determined to end.
My administration has presented Congress with a detailed proposal to secure the border and stop the criminal gangs, drug smugglers and human traffickers. It's a tremendous problem.
Our proposal was developed by law enforcement professionals and border agents at the Department of Homeland Security. These are the resources they have requested to properly perform their mission and keep America safe, in fact, safer than ever before.
The proposal from Homeland Security includes cutting-edge technology for detecting drugs, weapons, illegal contraband and many other things. We have requested more agents, immigration judges, and bed space to process the sharp rise in unlawful migration fueled by our very strong economy. Our plan also contains an urgent request for humanitarian assistance and medical support. Furthermore, we have asked Congress to close border security loopholes, so that illegal immigrant children can be safely and humanely returned back home.
Finally, as part of an overall approach to border security, law enforcement professionals have requested $5.7 billion for a physical barrier. At the request of Democrats, it will be a steel barrier, rather than a concrete wall.
This barrier is absolutely critical to border security. It's also what our professionals at the border want and need. This is just common sense. The border wall would very quickly pay for itself. The cost of illegal drugs exceeds $500 billion a year, vastly more than the $5.7 billion we have requested from Congress.
The wall will always be paid for indirectly by the great new trade deal we have made with Mexico.
Senator Chuck Schumer, who you will be hearing from later tonight, has repeatedly supported a physical barrier in the past, along with many other Democrats. They changed their mind only after I was elected president. Democrats in Congress have refused to acknowledge the crisis.
And they have refused to provide our brave border agents with the tools they desperately need to protect our families and our nation. The federal government remains shut down for one reason and one reason only, because Democrats will not fund border security.
My administration is doing everything in our power to help those impacted by the situation. But the only solution is for Democrats to pass a spending bill that defends our borders and reopens the government. This situation could be solved in a 45-minute meeting.
I have invited congressional leadership to the White House tomorrow to get this done. Hopefully, we can rise above partisan politics in order to support national security.
Some have suggested a barrier is immoral. Then why do wealthy politicians build walls, fences and gates around their homes? They don't build walls because they hate the people on the outside, but because they love the people on the inside.
The only thing that is immoral is the politicians to do nothing and continue to allow more innocent people to be so horribly victimized. America's heart broke the day after Christmas, when a young police officer in California was savagely murdered in cold blood by an illegal alien who just came across the border.
The life of an American hero was stolen by someone who had no right to be in our country.
Day after day, precious lives are cut short by those who have violated our borders. In California, an Air Force veteran was raped, murdered and beaten to death with a hammer by an illegal alien with a long criminal history.
In Georgia, an illegal alien was recently charged with murder for killing, beheading and dismembering his neighbor.
In Maryland, MS-13 gang members who arrived in the United States as unaccompanied minors were arrested and charged last year after viciously stabbing and beating a 16-year-old girl.
Over the last several years, I have met with dozens of families whose loved ones were stolen by illegal immigration. I've held the hands of the weeping mothers and embraced the grief-stricken fathers. So sad. So terrible.
I will never forget the pain in their eyes, the tremble in their voices and the sadness gripping their souls. How much more American blood must we shed before Congress does its job?
For those who refuse 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.
To every member of Congress, pass a bill that ends this crisis. To every citizen, call Congress and tell them to, finally, after all of these decades, secure our border.
This is a choice between right and wrong, justice and injustice. This is about whether we fulfill our sacred duty to the American citizens we serve.
When I took the oath of office, I swore to protect our country. And that is what I will always do, so help me God.
Thank you, and good night.
That was President Trump speaking from the Oval Office, making yet another appeal to the American people to support his call to build a wall, a physical wall, on the U.S. southern border, or else he will not see the U.S. government open again.
Just a few of the points that he made, he said all Americans are being hurt by uncontrolled illegal migration. He spoke about drug smuggling. He spoke about crimes committed, he said, by undocumented immigrants. He spoke about children and women being the greatest victims of undocumented immigration.
He spoke about the Democrats, that he has now changed his request for a wall, no longer concrete. He is talking about something made out of steel.
And he finally made an appeal, a very emotional appeal. He said, how much more American blood must we shed before Democrats come around and Congress does its job?
I'm going to quickly turn to my colleagues Amna Nawaz, Amy Walter to talk about this.
Amna, you have been keeping track of some of the statements the president has made just now. He made sweeping statements about how many illegal immigrants are in this country and have committed crimes.
What do we know about that?
I mean, the statistics certainly don't back up that that is a serious enough problem to maybe even necessitate a presidential statement right now.
Certainly, all those stories that he shared, those are heartbreaking stories. Each one of those families suffered a devastating loss.
But the facts show that illegal immigrants in America commit violent crimes and crimes overall at a far, far lower rate than even native-born Americans.
And he also referred to — again to women and children being used, being the victims of these traffickers. We know that trafficking is a part of the problem, but it's not the entire problem.
Amy, I just want to quickly come to you.
In terms of the political argument here, the president is appealing to the American people. Are we hearing a new argument from him that's likely to win over the people who don't agree with him?
Judy, this sounds like the same speech we have heard from the president since the time he came down that golden escalator.
Certainly, this sounded very familiar to his speech when he won the nomination at the convention. And given that opinions about the president mirror opinions about the wall, if you're not changing your opinion of the president, which he's not aiming to do — he's not making a different argument — it's unlikely that it's going to move any other voters.
In fact, we have seen over the course of the time that he's been president, opinions about him, favorable or unfavorable, have barely budged. People are pretty well locked in. And your opinion as a voter about the wall is also closely tied to your opinion about the president.
Nothing new here. He just seems to be making a similar argument that he's been making for the last two-and-a-half years.
But he painted it — he painted it as a moral question.
We heard him say at one point — at the end, he said, this is a choice between right and wrong, and, again, appealing to people watching to call their, to contact their member of Congress.
And, right now, we are going to hear from members of Congress. The speaker of the House, newly elected Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi will be speaking first. She's going to be followed by the Democratic minority leader in the United States Senate, Chuck Schumer, but Speaker Pelosi first.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.:
I appreciate the opportunity to speak directly to the American people tonight about how we can end this shutdown and meet the needs of the American people.
Sadly, much of what we have heard from President Trump throughout this senseless shutdown has been full of misinformation and even malice.
The president has chosen fear. We want to start with the facts.
The fact is, on the very first day of this Congress, House Democrats passed Senate Republican legislation to reopen government and fund smart, effective border security solutions.
But the president is rejecting these bipartisan bills which would reopen government over his obsession with forcing American taxpayers to waste billions of dollars on an expensive and ineffective wall, a wall he always promised Mexico would pay for.
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.
He promised to keep government shutdown for months or years, no matter whom it hurts. That's just plain wrong.
The fact is, we all agree that we need to secure our borders, while honoring our values. We can build the infrastructure and roads at our ports of entry. We can install new technology to scan cars and trucks for drugs coming into our nation. We can hire the personnel we need to facilitate trade and immigration at the border. We can fund more innovation to detect unauthorized crossings.
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.
And the fact is, President Trump must stop holding the American people hostage, must stop manufacturing a crisis, and must reopen the government.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.:
Thank you, Speaker Pelosi.
My fellow Americans, we address you tonight for one reason only. The President of the United States, having failed to get Mexico to pay for his ineffective, unnecessary border wall, and unable to convince the Congress or the American people to foot the bill, has shut down the government.
American democracy doesn't work that way. 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.
Tonight, and throughout this debate and his presidency, President Trump has appealed to fear, not facts, division, not unity. Make no mistake: Democrats and the president both want stronger border security. However, we sharply disagree with the president about the most effective way to do it.
So, how do we untangle this mess?
Well, there is an obvious solution. Separate the shutdown from arguments over border security. There is bipartisan legislation, supported by Democrats and Republicans, to reopen government, while allowing debate over border security to continue.
There is no excuse for hurting millions of Americans over a policy difference. Federal workers are about to miss a paycheck. Some families can't get a mortgage to buy a new home. Farmers and small businesses won't get loans they desperately need.
Most presidents have used Oval Office addresses for noble purposes. This president just used the backdrop of the Oval Office to manufacture a crisis, stoke fear, and divert attention from the turmoil in his administration.
My fellow Americans, there is no challenge so great that our nation cannot rise to meet it. We can reopen the government and continue to work through disagreements about policy. We can secure our border without an ineffective, expensive wall. And we can welcome legal immigrants and refugees without compromising safety and security.
The symbol of America should be the Statue of Liberty, not a 30-foot wall.
So, our suggestion is a simple one. Mr. President, reopen the government, and we can work to resolve our differences over border security. But end this shutdown now.
And we have just heard from the Senate minority leader, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer. He was preceded by the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi.
You heard the Democrats saying, we too want border security. We believe the border can be made safe, but it needs to be a conversation the country has with the government open and running, which — something the president clearly has disagreed with, because he has said from day one, unless there is agreement to fund a border wall, he wouldn't agree to fund the government.
I want to turn to my colleague Lisa Desjardins, who's joining us from the Capitol, standing by, Yamiche Alcindor at the White House, here in the studio, Amna Nawaz and Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report. But, Lisa, to you first, because you have been following this from the Capitol.
Are we hearing from the president and now from the Democratic congressional leaders the kind of argument that may bring us closer to resolving this?
I don't think so.
But, clearly, they needed to engage with each other on the philosophy that's behind this. We saw a little bit of this tonight. I can also say that, while the president was speaking, among the things that he said was something that I asked Democrats about directly.
The president said that, at Democrats' request, he is changing his demand for a wall, and it will now be steel, at the Democrats' request.
I immediately reached out to Speaker Pelosi's office, and his spoke — her spokesman, Drew Hammill, told me right away, "You can say I said, that's false."
So, Democrats are saying it is not at their request that any structure would be steel. And, in fact, if anything, Democrats aren't changing their position here. It sounds like they are saying that the president is operating on fear, that they still believe a wall is immoral.
However, notice, we didn't hear that word as much as two different words we heard, ineffective and costly, from Democrats. That seems to be their message. We will wait to see if they come back. They were speaking just a hallway away from me. And the speaker's office is behind me. So we will see if we see them returning from their remarks soon.
Great. And we will ask you to keep an eye out for them, because we know you are — you are there close by.
I want to turn now to Yamiche Alcindor, who's been at the White House, Yamiche, trying to understand all today whether we were going to hear a new or different argument in some way from the president.
Why — why is the president essentially sticking to his guns on this?
Well, this is the president's best pitch to America. He wanted to take his message that he's really been delivering for years, ever since he — he opened up his campaign talking about a wall, talking about immigrants as criminals.
He wanted to synthesize that into this eight-minute-to-10-minute speech where he told people that immigrants are criminals, essentially. And he was talking about the fact that he thinks of this as a crisis of the soul, that this is something that's commonsense, that Americans should be scared, essentially.
And he was talking about the fact that he really feels as though this is the best thing to do for America and that this is worth shutting down the government over.
One thing that was really, really important, he didn't say wall over and over and over again. I have listened to President Trump thousands of times or hundreds of times. And the president has always said, this is a wall, we need a wall. In this case, he said, physical barrier. That's a big shift, at least for now.
Tomorrow, he could be back to talking about a wall. But I think it's an important note that we need to make. I also want to tell you — I know you're probably hearing a little bit about the protesters, or at least hearing the noise of the protesters nearby.
Just outside the White House gates, there are people protesting with signs that say "Fake Crisis," saying that President Trump is a national emergency of himself, and also saying that he's a habitual liar.
There are people who are saying that the president is misleading America because some of the things that the president said were misleading, including the fact that immigrants are coming here bringing drugs across the border. We know that most of the drugs that are coming in America are coming through legal ports of entry, and being hidden in tractor-trailers and trucks.
We also know that immigrants, while they are being — some of them being arrested at the border, a large majority of them are being arrested for nonviolent crimes.
And, Yamiche, you raise a very good point, because that's one of the reasons this has been such an enormous controversy.
And I'm going to come now to the studio to Amna Nawaz and Amy Walter.
It's been such a big controversy, Amna, because there is a dispute about so many of the arguments the president and the vice president and other administration officials have been making. For example, tonight, Yamiche mentioned drugs.
You were just indicating to me, when the president talks about uncontrolled illegal migration, what is the evidence in terms of the numbers of people coming across the border?
I'm not sure there's any expert consensus that it's uncontrolled in any way.
If you look at, historically, what's been happening at our border, we have a graphic that clearly shows, over the last 20 years, those numbers of people who are illegally trying to enter the country on our southern border have been dramatically dropping.
That is — over the last two decades, that's an 81 percent drop. We have been handling in our past many hundreds of thousands of more people a month than we're currently handling.
I will say, when the president and Speaker Pelosi there talked about a humanitarian crisis, that absolutely exists. And that's because the demographics have been shifting. We have more families and more children appearing at our border now than ever before. And that is taxing our system in unprecedented ways.
It's worth pointing out, though, Judy, that's largely a crisis of our own making. We have not added resources to the kinds of places where that would make a difference, in our detention facilities or in our legal framework.
The other thing, Amna, just quickly, you and I were talking about was the mention of the need for more judges.
How does that impact what is going on?
It has a huge impact. We saw the president say right there that we don't have a way to promptly return people to their home countries.
That's absolutely true. We have an unprecedented backlog in our immigration courts right now. It's somewhere between 800,000 and a million immigration courts — cases, rather, that are waiting to be adjudicated.
We also know that people who are coming to our border now are not largely economic migrants. They're largely seeking protection, some kind of legal safe haven, fleeing violence and insecurity back home. So there are more asylum cases being filed than ever before, and the same number of people to handle them.
So important to get these, frankly, statistics of what information we do know for a fact is going on, when all these arguments are being thrown around.
Amy, I asked you a minute ago whether the president was making — saying anything new tonight, likely to win anybody over.
Yamiche pointed out he didn't use the word wall as much as he has.
But he's still talking about a physical barrier…
… and a huge investment in that barrier.
Well, and still making the case that the issue is really about immigrants who are coming over illegally and doing terrible things once they come over the border, as opposed to, as Amna pointed out, the real crisis that's on the border right now with families seeking asylum.
There was no discussion about what to do with these folks. And Amna is exactly right. The real crisis is the fact that there's not a way — and President Obama had the same challenge — of dealing with these families, with these children, especially once they come into the United States as asylum-seekers.
So there is a real challenge to our immigration system. But the wall itself is separate from the issue of the asylum-seekers, who they're — the asylum-seekers are going to a gate in a wall. They're not trying to get over a wall.
I don't think anybody disputes this is a complex problem. It is one the United States has been wrestling with for some time. Congress has tried again and again to pass legislation, has not been able to reach agreement on comprehensive legislation.
I want to try to go back to our Lisa Desjardins at the Capitol.
Lisa, we were — you and I were talking about this earlier today. There is falling away, slight falling away, among Republican ranks over this — the president's decision to hold firm on the wall or physical barrier, whatever you want to call it.
Three Senate Republicans have openly said they're ready to reopen most of government. That is Senator Cory Gardner, Senator Susan Collins, and also now today Senator Lisa Murkowski. These are senators who are known for more moderate stances and, in the cases of the two women there, for opposing the president on big votes.
Now, they're the first ones to say so publicly, but, privately, Judy, I know there is a level of discomfort among Senate Republican staff over this shutdown. They have — many of these staffers have been through this before and senators. And they know that generally it is the side which is refusing to pass just regular appropriations bills that gets blamed for this.
But one thing I want to point out about Democrats — we have talked a lot about the president, but the Democrats also in the past, it's worth pointing out, have supported a border fence. Chuck Schumer himself, I think we have a graphic, supported the 2006 Secure Fence Act.
And I asked Leader Hoyer, the number two Democrat in the House today, about this. You used to be for a fence. Why aren't you anymore? How do you explain that?
And, Judy, he paused and he said, "I don't have a good answer for that, but I do think that what the president wants, this wall across the entire border, is wrong."
So it's not clear what the Democrats' solution is. Or at least they're not verbalizing it, because they think the onus is on the president right now to set the agenda.
And, Lisa, just quickly, and the president — you're right. The president pointed out tonight that Democrats in the past have been for a physical wall.
The Democratic — Democratic Party argument has been, we're going to talk about border security, but, first, let's get the government open again.
But quickly, Lisa, we expect there to be a meeting tomorrow between…
… again between the president and congressional leaders.
Anything different, other than what we hear tonight, to set the table for that?
We will see.
I would be interested in Yamiche's perspective, but, from the Capitol, it doesn't feel like any hearts or minds have changed at this hour yet.
Yamiche, what about that? You're still with us at the White House.
Well, as of now, the president is really digging in here. That speech that he just gave was him really setting in stone his argument for why his side should win.
One of the things I want to point out is that the president was making an argument that's a little bit different than he's made in the past, which is always about criminals and about drugs. But he also was making an argument about class.
He said, fancy politicians put up walls in their homes. Why can't you also have a wall? He also was making sure that people understood that the opioid crisis is connected to the southern border.
And that's true. There is a lot of drugs coming in. But, again, that's going through actual legal ports of entry and not illegal points of entry.
But what the president's trying to do to Americans here is saying, look, you should be concerned about this, and Washington owes it to you to give you an answer, and that answer should be a physical barrier, and that answer should be the proposal that I put forth before Congress.
Yamiche, you make an excellent point. I had not heard the president before speak about wall — wealthy people having walls around their homes, that they have the right to wall themselves in, if you will, and to keep out bad elements.
And he's essentially saying that's what the country needs to be able to do as well.
Well, we want to thank all of you for joining us for this special coverage.
Yamiche Alcindor at the White House, Lisa Desjardins at the Capitol, here with me in the studio, Amna Nawaz and Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report, thank you all.
And, for now, that does conclude our special coverage of the president's address to the nation and the Democratic response.
For some viewers, your regular PBS prime-time programming will resume.
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