In a Christmas Day appearance in the Oval Office, Trump issued a defence of his desire for a wall, saying it’s the only way to stop drugs and human traffickers from entering the country. In a nod to the political stakes he’s facing, Trump said he wants the wall by “election time” in 2020.
The promise of a border wall was a central component of Trump’s presidential campaign.
“I can’t tell you when the government’s going to be open. I can tell you it’s not going to be open until we have a wall or fence,” Trump said, referring to Democrats who staunchly oppose walling off the border.
“I’ll call it whatever they want, but it’s all the same thing,” he said after a holiday video conference with representatives from all five branches of the military stationed in Alaska, Bahrain, Guam and Qatar.
Trump argued that drug flows and human trafficking can only be stopped by a wall. “We can’t do it without a barrier a wall,” he said. “The only way you’re going to do it is to have a physical barrier, meaning a wall. And if you don’t have that then we’re just not opening” the government.
Democrats oppose spending money on a wall, preferring instead to pump the dollars into fencing, technology and other means of controlling access to the border. Trump argued that Democrats oppose a wall only because he is for one.
The stalemate over how much to spend and how to spend it caused the partial government shutdown that began on Saturday following a lapse in funding for departments and agencies that make up about 25% of the government.
Some 800000 government workers are affected. Many are on the job but must wait until after the shutdown to be paid again.
Trump said many of these workers “have told me ‘stay out until you get the funding for the wall’. These federal workers want the wall. The only ones not wanting the wall are the Democrats”.
Trump didn’t say how he’s hearing from federal workers, excluding those he appointed to their jobs or who work with him in the White House. But many rank-and-file workers have gone on social media with stories of financial hardship they expect to face because of the shutdown.
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York and Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leaders of Congress, said Trump “wanted the shutdown, but he seems not to know how to get himself out it”.
Trump had said he’d be “proud” to shut down the government in a fight over the wall. AP