After a lonely holiday season at the White House, President Donald Trump is now aggressively selling the government shutdown, insisting he remains “proud” of his efforts to secure funding for a southern border wall and reminding federal workers affected by the funding lapse of a “higher purpose.”
In a Rose Garden address Friday afternoon that lasted more than an hour, Trump and Republican leaders did not announce a compromise or a path back to reopening the government. Instead, they said they would continue to negotiate with Democratic leaders over the weekend, with Trump adding he might also consider using national emergency powers to obtain wall funding if talks break down.
The president also brought up tackling human trafficking, keeping drugs out of the country, protecting young children, and keeping the country safe from terrorists as reasons for the wall, which he said could be made of concrete or steel. The messaging, with little evidence to support his claims, was similar to the dark rhetoric against undocumented immigrants he used during the 2016 campaign and ahead of the midterm elections in talking about the caravan.
“They bring children, or even worse, they use children. You know children are the biggest beneficiaries of what we want to do,” he said. “Children are hurt more than anybody else. These coyotes, what they do with children — all because we have open borders, because they think they can get away with it.”
“You’ll have traffickers having three and four women with tape on their mouths and tied up, sitting in the back of a van or a car and they’ll drive that van or car not through the port of entry where we have very talented people that look for every little morsel of drugs or people or whatever they’re looking for,” the president said.
At one point, Trump also claimed that some former presidents had told him they should have built the wall during their time in office, without mentioning anyone by name.
Trump also acknowledged during his Rose Garden appearance that he told Democratic leaders in a two-hour meeting in the Situation Room of the White House that the partial government shutdown could last months or even years. “I don’t think it will, but I am prepared,” he said, continuing to frame it as a necessary means to national security — one that the 800,000 affected federal workers would be understanding of.
“This really does have a higher purpose than next week’s pay,” Trump said. “And the people that wouldn’t get next week’s pay or the following week’s pay, I think if you ever really looked at those people, I think they’d say, ‘Mr. President, keep going, this is far more important.’”
Two sources close to the administration told BuzzFeed News they were surprised by Trump’s silence — other than his tweets — at the start of the shutdown over the holidays and that they had been expecting the president to build support for the wall and the shutdown, as he is now doing.
Friday’s long Rose Garden address turned press conference by the president followed a meandering, 95-minute Cabinet meeting Wednesday, during which he kept cameras and reporters in the room to talk about the border wall and funding crisis. He also made an unannounced appearance at the White House briefing room on Thursday with Border Patrol agents to make a statement on the need for the border wall, but did not take questions.
“Without a wall you can not have border security,” Trump said Thursday in the briefing room, insisting he had “never seen anything like” the support he was getting on the issue. “Without a very strong form of barrier, call it what you will, but without a wall, you can’t have border security, it won’t work.”