President Donald Trump will seize the power of the bully pulpit this week amid the ongoing government shutdown, making his case for border wall funding in a prime-time Oval Office address that he will quickly follow up with a visit to the southern border.
The back-to-back events reflect a new attempt by the President to cast the deadlock over immigration as a national security crisis, a characterization that Democrats reject but which the President’s aides believe will bolster support for a border wall.
The President tweeted he will “address the nation” Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET “on the Humanitarian and National Security crisis on our Southern border,” two days before he is scheduled to visit the border. Trump indicated to aides over the weekend that he was interested in delivering a prime-time address to call attention to the issue, but it was not immediately clear whether TV networks had agreed to clear airtime for a presidential address.
Bill Shine, the deputy chief of staff for communications, was set to meet with aides Monday afternoon to discuss the address. The New York Times first reported Trump’s desire to address the nation.
Two days later, Trump will head to the US-Mexico border to “meet with those on the front lines of the national security and humanitarian crisis,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders announced Monday morning on Twitter.
The President’s decision to deliver a prime-time address and visit the southern border came after some of his allies warned him his arguments about immigration aren’t resonating, according to two people familiar with the matter.
In conversations over the past two weeks, some of the President’s advisers have told him that simply tweeting and speaking off-the-cuff wouldn’t alone suffice in convincing Americans a border wall is necessary. Inside the White House, some view the quiet week between Christmas and New Year’s Day as a lost opportunity that could have been used to drive home an urgent message about the necessity of a border wall while Congress was out of town.
Some of Trump’s aides view his “build the wall” slogan as no longer having the same impact it once did during the campaign because Trump has used it so frequently. The phrase lacks the urgency needed to break the shutdown impasse, some of Trump’s advisers have told him.
That’s prompted an effort inside the White House to develop plans for higher-profile messaging events that would allow Trump to underscore what he says is a border crisis.
Trump sought to begin executing a new strategy when he appeared in the White House briefing room with border patrol officials last Thursday, believing the setting would lend some authority to his message. But afterward some aides viewed the event as a dud that didn’t have the breakthrough effect that was desired.
Trump administration officials have pointed to a surge in migrant families crossing the border to make their case that the situation at the southern border is reaching critical proportions.
But Trump and his top officials have also pointed to misleading statistics to suggest terrorists are attempting to enter the United States through the southern border. Sanders, for example, falsely claimed on Sunday that “nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists come into our country illegally,” even though the overwhelming majority of those individuals are blocked from entering the US at airports.
Pressed about the terrorism claims during an impromptu Rose Garden news conference last week, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen pointed to another statistic: that more than 3,000 “special interest aliens” have tried to enter the US through the southern border, suggesting those individuals “have travel patterns that are identified as terrorist travel patterns or they have known or suspected ties to terrorism.”
But those individuals could also simply be coming from countries “where terrorism is prevalent, or nations that are hostile to the United States,” as Nielsen’s predecessor John Kelly previously defined the term.