President Donald Trump took his disputed claim of a national security crisis at the nation’s southern border directly to the American people on Tuesday night, for the first time speaking from the Oval Office in prime time to try to enlist public support for $5.7 billion for his long-promised wall.
Yet while the president aimed to put pressure on his Democratic opponents, even before he spoke his Republican support seemed to be eroding further. Several more Republican senators called for an end to the shutdown regardless of funding for Trump’s signature wall.
“There is a growing humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border,” Trump said in a 10-minute address, sitting at his familiar desk. He added, “All Americans are hurt by uncontrolled illegal migration.”
The president said that constructing a steel barrier, as he called it, is “absolutely critical to border security. It’s also what our professionals at the border want and need.”
The president stopped short of declaring the national emergency he’s spoken of in recent days, which he has said would allow him to bypass Congress and tap existing funds for a wall. He also steered clear, after days of criticism, of repeating some of the false claims that thousands of terrorists were crossing the border. But as he often does at political rallies, he vividly described a few violent crimes allegedly committed by people who are in the U.S. illegally.
His address punctuated a public relations offensive to break a standoff with lawmakers that has blocked funding for about a quarter of the government, keeping affected agencies closed since Dec. 22 for the longest such shutdown since 1996. By Saturday, if unresolved, it will surpass that record.
The impasse has left about 800,000 workers without paychecks this week, though about half must still report for work. It has closed popular national parks and left others opened but ill-attended and filling with trash. Real estate closings, farming plans and other businesses that depend on federal offices have been disrupted, reflecting the increasing number of disrupted services reliant on the government.
Trump has argued, despite polling to the contrary, that federal workers and other Americans accept any such sacrifices, given their support for his stand for a border wall to keep the country safe.
Apprehensions at the southern border have been declining for two decades, and no terrorists are known to have crossed it.
Democrats and advocates who favor less restrictive immigration policies dispute that a crisis has ensued. There is some agreement on the humanitarian imperatives, including the need to spend more money on immigration judges and other officials necessary to process refugee claims that have piled up, in part because of administration policies discouraging such claims. Democrats also have called for investigating detention centers at the border, after the recent deaths of two migrant Guatemalan children in U.S. custody.
Days after Democrats assumed control of the House last week amid the standoff, the White House on Monday hurriedly arranged the Oval Office address as Trump has tried to dominate the debate this week. He also sent Vice President Mike Pence on a series of interviews with network news reporters on Tuesday morning. Trump and Pence are expected to meet with Republican senators at the Capitol today, and Trump plans to go to the border in McAllen, Texas, on Thursday.
The president predictably sought to lay blame for the impasse on Democrats.
“The federal government remains shut down for one reason and one reason only—because Democrats will not fund border security,” he said.
Moments after Trump’s speech, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York delivered a televised rebuttal, arguing against what Pelosi calls the “immoral” wall while making the case for reopening the government before any negotiations about border security.
Pelosi noted that Trump had rejected bipartisan bills in the Senate and House to reopen government “over his 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.”
Schumer complained, “The president just used the backdrop of the Oval Office to manufacture a crisis, stoke fear and divert attention from the turmoil of his administration.” He insisted that Democrats were not opposed to spending for border security, but only for the wall.
Democrats, who have not been willing to approve more than $1.3 billion in additional border security funding, haven’t budged during the 18-day standoff.
Pelosi and Schumer had demanded the television networks allow them time to respond. The dueling speeches gave the evening the air of a State of the Union address, an annual event that is scheduled for Jan. 29. Presidents since Harry S. Truman have delivered prime-time Oval Office addresses, typically at moments of domestic or international significance, but Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama disliked the format and used it rarely as technology has given Americans more viewing and entertainment options.
Trump, who is most comfortable criticizing immigration at a rollicking rally, seemed muted and discomfited as he narrowed his eyes to read from the teleprompter. Pelosi and Schumer, standing beside each other stiffly, looked no more at ease than the president.
The battle over a wall has become a defining political test for Trump and—with the president for the first time forced to share power with congressional Democrats—it has set an especially combative tone for the final two years of his term. He promised repeatedly during the 2016 campaign to build a wall along the 2,000-mile border with Mexico, while also insisting improbably that Mexico would pay for it.
In his address, the president repeated his claim that Mexico in effect would pay for the wall through increased trade resulting from the recently renegotiated North American trade agreement with Mexico and Canada—an assertion that many experts and fact-checkers have derided.
Even many of Trump’s conservative allies in the immigration fight have put a low priority on building a wall, but the president has suggested that he will keep the issue at the center of his re-election battle in 2020.
“Your safety is not a political game or a negotiation tactic!” Trump wrote in a fundraising email to supporters on Tuesday, hours before the address. “Please make a special contribution of $5 by 9 p.m. EST to our Official Secure the Border Fund to have your name sent to me after my speech.”
The showdown over the wall began last month in the final days of Republicans’ two-year hold on Washington’s levers of legislative power—the White House, House and Senate. Congressional Republicans, a number of them unenthusiastic about Trump’s signature cause, did not press hard for his funding requests in that time, and Senate leaders have not lent him vocal support lately.
Indeed, about half a dozen Senate Republicans—including several facing re-election battles next year—indicated they wanted the president’s showdown to end even without money for a wall. On Tuesday, Sens. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska called for reopening the government, joining others who’ve signaled opposition to an ongoing shutdown, including Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Susan Collins of Maine.
Yet so far, neither the president nor congressional Democrats have been willing to give in.
Trump has been hounded by conservative media allies to keep up the fight, even as Republicans in Congress have tried to move on.
Democrats, emboldened by their new majority in the House as well as Trump’s declarations a month ago that he would take responsibility for a shutdown, believe they have the leverage and have been unwilling to yield. They have previously supported money for border barriers in past years’ immigration compromises but now see the issue as politically toxic to their anti-Trump voters.
Polls have shown that most Americans blame Trump for the shutdown. One survey over the weekend by Morning Consult and Politico found a plurality of 42 percent of Americans agree with Trump that there is a crisis on the border, yet 47 percent blamed him for the shutdown and 33 percent blamed congressional Democrats.
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Trump, however, has largely focused on his supporters in governing, and polls show the vast majority of Republicans continue to take his side, reducing his appetite for compromise.
For Democrats, a prolonged battle over the president’s immigration platform could hamper their ability to present an alternative governing agenda over the next two years. They have, however, largely coalesced behind Schumer and Pelosi.
In the Senate, Democrats on Tuesday blocked an unrelated bill that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., sought to bring up for a vote, demanding that he first let senators vote on House-passed bills ending the shutdown. They are considering filibustering other legislation as well until McConnell relents.
“The New Democratic majority in the House of Representatives did their job and made opening the entire government the first order of business when they passed two measures to achieve that goal,” the four senators from Virginia and Maryland—home to many federal employees but fewer than California—wrote in a letter to fellow Democrats. “Republican leader McConnell should immediately bring those bills to a vote in the Senate.”
House Democrats plan to hold votes this week on similar bills to restore funding for portions of the government that are closed, such as the Interior Department that oversees national parks and the Treasury Department that oversees tax refunds. Those votes could put additional pressure on Republicans.
Austin Neuhaus visited the MD-1 tent at the Country Thunder music festival to look for the man who helped save his life.
The doctor in the tent did not know who was working New Year’s Day 2016, the day Neuhaus was in a nearly fatal car crash.
The now-19-year-old Genoa City man does not remember anything that happened in the 30 days before and after the crash because of the brain bleeding he experienced. People at the scene told him a Mercyhealth MD-1 doctor had helped keep him alive until he reached Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, Neuhaus said.
Neuhaus had hoped to meet every first responder on the scene that January afternoon to thank them for keeping him alive.
His MD-1 doctor was one of the last people who remained a mystery to him.
Then Neuhaus took a firefighting class in November at Gateway Technical College—the same class Sean Marquis, associate EMS medical director at Mercyhealth, was taking.
Neuhaus was driving his truck at about noon Jan. 1, 2016, when it slid on a patch of ice on Daisy Road near Genoa City and crashed into a tree.
Neuhaus and his friends Sam McKinney and Logan Parker, who were in the truck, were on their way to a friend’s house before going to play basketball.
Of the three teens in the car, Neuhaus was hurt the worst. He broke the top two vertebrae in his spine—the critical bones that allow the skull to move—along with his leg, neck, jaw and sinus cavity, and suffered brain bleeding.
He was in physical therapy for nearly two years and still occasionally experiences pain from his injuries.
Marquis arrived in MD-1, an emergency medical vehicle staffed with doctors who can provide treatment beyond what a paramedic can offer. He applied pressure to Neuhaus’ neck wound to control the bleeding, administered medicine to prevent internal bleeding and stabilized Neuhaus for transport.
Responding to incidents involving young people is one of the most difficult parts of his job, Marquis said.
Neuhaus said he met several first responders who were on the scene that afternoon through his father, who used to be a firefighter.
The flight nurse who helped Neuhaus during transport gave a presentation at Catholic Central High School in Burlington, where Neuhaus was a student, after the crash. The nurse recognized the teen, and the two connected, giving him a chance to thank her.
Nearly three years later, Neuhaus enrolled in an introductory firefighting course at Gateway that met once a week.
Marquis was in the same class. The men didn’t know each other until the last day of class, when Neuhaus mentioned MD-1 was on the scene of his crash.
Marquis said he felt “amazement and pride” when he realized Neuhaus was the teen he saved in 2016. Marquis rarely meets patients after treating them, and he said he felt meeting Neuhaus was “fate.”
To see Neuhaus doing so well was gratifying, Marquis said.
The two say they look forward to crossing paths again over the course of their careers.
Growing up, Neuhaus had hoped to become a firefighter. After his crash, he realized the physical demands of firefighting would be too hard on his body.
Instead, Neuhaus intends to become a paramedic. He said he has experienced first-hand how emergency medical professionals can change a person’s life.
Neuhaus is a religious person. He said he prays every night that God will protect the first responders who helped him.
Marquis said he remembers moments in his life that shaped who he is today. He is glad the crash led to a positive outcome for Neuhaus.
“When I am 21, I have to buy you a drink,” Neuhaus told Marquis as the two parted ways Tuesday afternoon.
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More than 90 percent of Wisconsin’s school districts pay their board members. Pay ranges from $60 a meeting to $18,667 a year in Milwaukee.
The Janesville School District isn’t one of them, but the school board voted 7-2 Tuesday night to study the idea. Michelle Haworth and Jim Millard were the votes against.
Board member Cathy Myers said the study won’t just look at compensation.
Members want to know if the promise of compensation might encourage more and better candidates to run for school board, Myers said. For younger people or single parents, the cost of a baby sitter or lost time at work might make serving on the board an impossibility.
Currently, five of the nine board members are retired.
Board member Karl Dommershausen first raised the prospect of paying board members. Dommershausen said he knows many people who would like to serve on the board but say they can’t afford it. Dommershausen works part time, and when meetings conflict with his scheduled shifts, he loses that money, he said.
At a school board policy, personnel and curriculum committee meeting last month, Dommershausen said he envisioned a system that would allow board members to turn down the compensation.
At the same committee meeting, Myers said she was uncomfortable voting for what would essentially be a pay raise. That’s a concern other members have expressed, as well.
In an interview after Tuesday’s meeting, Millard said he voted no on the study because he planned to vote no if a compensation plan was proposed. He would not vote for a raise for himself.
He said if there was some guarantee that a pay or compensation plan wouldn’t go into effect until after all the current board members’ terms are up, he might consider voting yes.
Board members Steve Huth and Myers are working on the study and expect it to take at least six weeks.