Donald Trump has told the American people that the US is facing a “humanitarian and security crisis” on its southern border during his first-ever prime time address from the Oval Office on Tuesday, as a nineteenth day of partial government shutdown loomed.
Mr Trump urged congressional Democrats to fund his long-promised border wall in the sombre televised address that was heavy with dark immigration rhetoric, which caused Democrats to accuse the president of “stoking fear”.
“How much more American blood must be shed before Congress does its job?” he said, 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 toward directing money for the wall without congressional approval, Mr Trump said he would continue seeking a solution to the impasse with Congress.
Democrats have so far flat out rejected Mr Trump’s demand for $5.6bn (£4.4bn) to build the wall, and the budgetary showdown over that money has left 800,000 public sector staff either furloughed or working without pay until the issue is resolved.
All major US television networks aired Mr Trump’s speech, prompting Democrats, who say a wall would be expensive, inefficient and immoral, to seek equal time in an address directly after the president.
They used it to accuse the president of implementing fear tactics and spreading misinformation about the situation along the border.
“The president has chosen fear. We want to start with the facts,” said Nancy Pelosi, Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives.
“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,” she said.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Tuesday found that 51 per cent of adults mainly blamed Mr Trump for the shutdown, up four percentage points from late December, while 32 per cent blamed congressional Democrats and seven per cent faulted Republicans in Congress.
Mr Trump has invited the congressional leadership from both parties to another meeting at the White House on Wednesday afternoon to try and break the deadlock. Mr Trump then travels to the border on Thursday.