Every major television network handed President Donald Trump prime airtime on Tuesday night to repeat debunked lies about immigration.
Trump made no new announcements and broke no new ground in his prime-time televised address. He repeated his demand for $5.7 billion in border wall money to end the nearly three-week partial shutdown of the federal government, offering the deal as the only solution to a major national security crisis. He put the onus on congressional lawmakers to craft such a plan to reopen more than half a dozen federal agencies that have remained partly shuttered since before Christmas.
“How much more American blood must we shed before Congress does its job?” Trump asked during the address. “For those who refuse to compromise in the name of job security, I would ask, imagine if it were 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.”
Trump repeated several mistruths in an attempt to tout the barrier, casting migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. as criminals and listing off a slew of crimes that critics saw as an attempt to generate fear.
“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,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a televised address after Trump’s speech.
During the address, Trump also tried to pit Americans of color against undocumented immigrants in his quest for public sympathy.
“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,” said Trump, who largely won his election by playing to the anxieties of white voters.
He also repeated misleading claims that Mexico would indirectly pay for the wall through a revised trade deal, an assertion that has been debunked by leading economists. Trade experts say any benefits from the revamped deal would be dwarfed by the cost of the wall.
The president’s address, which ran for around 10 minutes, was carried by every major television network in America as well as some cable providers. The media giants had to make quick decisions as to whether they would accommodate Trump, who tweeted his intentions to speak to the country during prime time in a missive just a day earlier.
About 800,000 federal workers have been affected by the partial shutdown thus far, and many have been required to go to work without pay. There are no signs the shutdown will end anytime soon with the president’s latest demands.
Leading Democrats demanded they be given equal airtime to counter the president’s address, which contained multiple falsehoods and mistruths. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) fired back shortly after Trump ended his speech, saying the president’s recent behavior was “full of misinformation and even malice.”
“The president has chosen fear. We want to start with the facts,” Pelosi said, noting that House Democrats passed legislation to reopen the government on the first day of the new Congress. “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.”
Trump had reportedly been working with White House staff to create justification to declare a national emergency to build the wall unilaterally, but made no such announcement on Tuesday. Democratic lawmakers have vowed to challenge the administration if it attempts to do so, and such a move would guarantee the issue would go to federal court.
The president plans to travel to the U.S.-Mexico border on Thursday.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.