President Donald Trump called on Congress on Tuesday to give him $5.7 billion this year to help build a wall on the US border with Mexico but stopped short of declaring a national emergency to pay for the wall with military funds.
Facing Democratic opposition in Congress to a wall, Trump said in a prime-time televised speech that there was a growing security crisis at the US-Mexico border.
Using blunt language in an attempt to win public support, Trump said illegal immigrants and drugs flowing across the southern border posed a serious threat to American safety.
“How much more American blood will be shed before Congress does its job?” Trump said after 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, Trump said he would continue seeking a solution to the impasse with Congress.
Trump is scheduled to visit the southwest border on Thursday and it was not clear whether he still might choose to make the national emergency declaration.
Trump’s remarks came 18 days into a partial government shutdown precipitated by his demand for the wall, which he has said is needed to keep out illegal immigrants and drugs.
Democrats and other opponents of a border wall had threatened to take legal action if Trump issued the order.
They say he is using false claims and manufacturing a crisis to carry out his 2016 presidential campaign promise for a wall that he said at the time would be paid for by Mexico.
The Mexican government has refused to provide such funds.
Hoping to demonstrate flexibility during his nearly 10-minute speech from the White House Oval Office, Trump said of the border barrier he wants built: “At the request of the Democrats it will be a steel barrier and not a concrete wall.”
But Democrats have opposed not just the construction materials to be used, but the extent of a project that could end up costing more than $24 billion over the long run.
Democrats also argue that a mix of fencing, which already has been constructed in many parts of the border, and higher-tech tools would be cheaper and more effective in securing the border.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi delivered televised rebuttals to Trump’s speech.
Pelosi noted that Trump had rejected bipartisan legislation to reopen the government agencies shuttered as a result of the fight over the wall.
She blamed Trump’s “obsession with forcing American taxpayers to waste billions of dollars on an expensive and ineffective wall – a wall he always promised Mexico would pay for!”