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Trump's Primetime Immigration Speech Hits Wall With Skeptics

From NPR
Kevin Dietsch
Pool | Getty Images
President Trump delivers his first prime-time address from the Oval Office Tuesday.

As the U.S. continues with a partial government shut down over the funding of a border wall, President Trump took his case straight to the American people. But some believe Trump’s argument for the wall is at odds with the realities of the southern border.

“My fellow Americans, tonight I am speaking to you because there is a growing humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border.”

Traditionally a presidential oval office address is reserved for times of great national importance that rise above partisan politics. But with Trump’s speech and then a response by Democrats Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer politics were in full view. 

“Sadly, much of what we heard from president Trump throughout this senseless shutdown has been full of misinformation and even malice,” Pelosi said.

Republican Congressman Will Hurd represents the 23rd district of Texas that stretches across much of the U.S. Mexico border. If there is a crisis on the border, he would be one of the first to know. He said he was not convinced by Trump’s address that a wall is needed.

“It's unfortunate that we're having to still play these shutdown politics," Hurd said. “I've been very clear a building, a 40-foot high concrete structure from sea to shining sea is the most expensive and least effective way to do border security."

Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar who also represents a Texas border district said Trump’s logic for the wall and how it would pay for itself is fundamentally flawed.

“I know he's saying that, uh, you know, there'll be some savings or go into the, to the federal government that will pay for the wall," Cuellar said. "That's not the way it operates; it doesn't work that way.”

While the speech was billed as national address about the national security crisis on the border, both the Republicans and Democrats were looking to defend their dug-in positions on the ongoing government shutdown.  

Cuellar said this is not fair to federal employees.

“What does education have to do with a wall? What is community affairs have to do with that? What is housing have to do with it? What does food stamps have to do with it? Let's open up those agencies and continue negotiating on the homeland, but don't do it on the backs of the of those 800,000 federal employees,” he said.

James Dickey, the chairman of the Republican Party of Texas, said agreeing to fund the government before getting the money for the wall would be a mistake for Trump.

“I think it's not coincidental that their solution to compromising would be for them to get everything they would like and he would get nothing,” he said.

Dickey said the partial government shutdown is not a concern compared to the need for a border wall.

"I've talked to friends and neighbors and people I've encountered out in the public, it's actually been refreshing to see the reminder of how little people's day to day lives depends on the federal government, as it should be," he said.

Dickey said Trump was on target about the crisis on the border. The head of the Texas Republican Party said it was the Democratic response that was out of touch.

“The Democrats kept trying to say, 'Who are you going to believe, us or your own lying eyes?' ” he said.

But Scott Stewart, an analyst for the geopolitical intelligence platform Stratfor, said Trump’s statements about the wall have holes in them — particularly when it comes to stopping the flow of illegal drugs.

"Most of the high-value drugs are actually coming through a border point of entry," he said. "They're being brought in cars and being brought in semi trucks hidden within commerce on trains, on planes. So they're not by and large coming through these open stretches of desert."

Another talking point used by Trump is the impact illegal immigration is having on jobs in America.

“We're at 3.9 percent unemployment," he said. "We shouldn’t be afraid of how to put these people to work.”  

Hurd said one of the best parts of Trump’s speech is what he didn’t say.

"I'm glad he didn't call for a national emergency because I believe calling a national emergency would be a gross abuse of power and would be automatically challenged in the courts," he said. "I hope it's not a part of the strategy going forward.”

David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org or on Twitter @DavidMartinDavi


David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi