President Donald Trump headed Thursday to the US-Mexico border to push his demand for a wall, a day after he walked out of negotiations with Democrats in a political crisis paralysing the government.
Trump departed the White House en route for Texas, where he was expected to visit the community of McAllen and meet with local border patrol agents.
“We want a secure country,” Trump told journalists just before departing.
The Texas trip gives Trump yet another high-profile stage to push his wall plan, following a national television address Tuesday and his drama-filled abandonment of talks with Democratic opponents on Wednesday.
Trump wants $5.7 billion for construction of a wall that he says is needed to stop a violent crime crisis caused by an unsecured border. Democrats say the wall would not solve real US immigration problems and is being promoted as a gimmick to satisfy the president’s right-wing base.
Trump has tried to pressure Congress by refusing to sign off on a host of unrelated, normally uncontroversial government spending, resulting in a partial government shutdown.
Hundreds of thousands of federal employees, including air traffic controllers and members of the Coast Guard, have been without pay for three weeks.
The frustrated president again repeated his threat that if the Democrats don’t back down, he will declare a national emergency to give himself the authority to go around Congress.
“If we don’t make a deal, I think it would be very surprising to me” not to declare a national emergency, he said.
Analysts say the declaration would likely be challenged in court as a case of presidential overreach, in which case the wall still would face being blocked.
However, it would still give Trump political cover with his base by showing he’d done what he could. At that point, Trump could end the partial government shutdown.
Indicating that the impasse could drag on, Trump said that he would skip an international forum in Davos in just under two weeks “if the shutdown continues.”
Trump, who revels in telling stories about his negotiating skills as a New York real estate magnate, has not managed to get the Democrats to budge on his demand for the $5.7 billion.
On Wednesday, he invited Democratic leaders to the White House and began by asking if they would approve the wall in exchange for him ending the government shutdown. When the Democrats said no, he walked out.
“A total waste of time,” Trump tweeted. “I said bye-bye, nothing else works!”
Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat in the Senate, told journalists Trump “sort of slammed the table,” then “got up and walked out.”
“Again, we saw a temper tantrum because he couldn’t get his way,” Schumer said.
Trump disputed that Thursday, saying “I didn’t pound the table. That is a lie.”
“I don’t have temper tantrums,” he said. “All of that narrative is a lie.”
Illegal immigrants danger disputed
In Texas, aid workers say that people crossing the border do not present the menace that Trump claims.
“The truth is that a great number of percentage of people entering our country, asking to come in to the country, are not criminals: they are families, children, mothers, who really are asking for protection,” said Sister Norma Pimentel, head of the Catholic Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas.
“They’re not coming here to hurt us but rather for us to help them.”
A 23-year-old Honduran who gave his name only as Kevin said he came with his toddler-age daughter in search of a better life.
“We left because of the crime because there is a lot of unemployment. The education system is bad and all of us, we parents, want a better future for our children,” he told AFP.