President Donald Trump, in a prime-time television address Tuesday night from the Oval Office, made his case for a wall and strengthened security at the U.S.-Mexico border in graphic fashion, highlighting multiple grisly examples of Americans allegedly murdered by illegal immigrants.
Democratic congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, and Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, immediately responded to Trump's harrowing remarks, denouncing his dark language and again calling for the government to reopen.
The dueling addresses amounted to little more than high-stakes theater, with each side repeating their firm stances on the shutdown. Trump did not declare a national emergency, as had been speculated he might, while the Democratic leaders repeated their push to re-open the government without funding for a border wall. Instead, it looked like the partial government shutdown, already nearly three weeks long, was going to drag on for a while longer.
Trump tried to make his case with a calm delivery that started with his description of a "humanitarian crisis" that has put children at risk, but eventually took a dark turn. The latter part of Trump's speech included detailed depictions of killings allegedly perpetrated by illegal immigrants, which he has previously brought up in much more raucous campaign rallies.
"In California, an Air Force veteran was raped, murdered, and beaten to death with a hammer by an illegal alien with a long criminal history," Trump said in his first-ever Oval Office address to the American people.
"In Georgia, an illegal alien was recently charged with murder for killing, beheading, and dismembering his neighbor. In Maryland, MS-13 gang members that arrived in the United States as unaccompanied minors were arrested and charged last year after viciously stabbing and beating a 16-year-old girl," Trump added.
Pelosi and Schumer denounced Trump's speech as fear mongering and called the wall unnecessary for tackling the issue of border security.
"The president has chosen fear. We want to start with the facts," Pelosi said, arguing that Trump is rejecting bipartisan proposals to end the ongoing partial government shutdown over his "obsession with forcing American taxpayers" to pay for "a wall he always promised Mexico would pay for." Trump's call for a wall was a key part of his appeal to his nationalist, anti-immigrant base of supporters.
Recently, Trump has claimed that a new North American trade deal would amount to Mexico paying for the wall, but neither he nor his administration have offered detailed explanation for how it would work.
Trump also claimed that his proposed wall, which he had previously asserted would be made of concrete, would now be constructed out of steel "at the request of Democrats."
As recently as Friday, Trump had told reporters that "I think we're probably talking about steel because I really feel the other side feels better about it." A spokesman for Pelosi told CNBC that Democrats had "never agreed to it or requested it."
Meanwhile, the shutdown of about a quarter of the federal government, comprising nine agencies, dragged on toward its 19th day with no clear end in sight.
The longest government shutdown on record lasted 21 days.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who has refused to allow a vote in his chamber on bills that he says the president will not sign, said in a statement that Trump's proposal "suits the reality on the ground."
"The past eighteen days have shown that Democrats' refusal to negotiate is not due to any principled objection, but simply due to partisan spite for the president," McConnell added in yet another indication that the shutdown would persist.
Trump had addressed his opponents in Congress directly in his speech.
"To those that refuse to compromise in the name of border security, I would ask, imagine if it was your child, your husband or your wife whose life was so cruelly shattered and totally broken," Trump said.
The president is scheduled to visit the southern border in Texas on Thursday in an effort to escalate his messaging on the border wall.
Yet, according to The New York Times, Trump told news anchors at an off-the-record lunch Tuesday that he considered the planned border visit a mere photo op. He also said top communications advisors Bill Shine, Kellyanne Conway, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders had talked him into doing it, the Times reported, citing a person in the room.