WASHINGTON — Top congressional Democrats said President Donald Trump “has chosen fear” in his drive to build a southern border wall and called on him to reopen the government shuttered because of the standoff over his demand for money for the barrier.
Speaking moments after Trump made his case for the wall in an Oval Office address Tuesday night, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told a national television audience that the president’s rhetoric has been “full of misinformation and even malice.”
Standing alongside her, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said America’s symbol “should be the Statute of Liberty, not a 30-foot wall.” He accused Trump of trying to “stoke fear and divert attention” from his tumultuous administration.
The White House countered Wednesday by accusing Democrats of being in denial about dangerous activity taking place at the border, which Trump says would be thwarted by the construction of a wall.
“He’s fighting for the protection and the safety of every American citizen,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Fox News Channel’s “Fox and Friends.”
”And the fact that the Democrats want to continue to live in denial and pretend that things that are coming across this border that bring harm to people in this country aren’t happening is frankly sad, it’s ridiculous, and I think you saw that on full display last night in their response to the president.”
She added: “If this is the face and the future of the Democrat party I think things are looking really good for Republicans.”
The Democrats’ prime-time remarks amounted to a debut for the newly empowered opposition. Less than a week after Democrats formally took control of the House, Pelosi and Schumer stood side by side at a lectern in an appearance designed to emphasize their party’s unity.
They spoke after Trump warned of a “growing humanitarian and security crisis” at the border with Mexico. He said it was “immoral” for politicians “to do nothing and continue to allow more innocent people to be so horribly victimized” by the drugs and criminals he claims are streaming across the boundary.
Trump and the Democrats have been dueling during a partial government shutdown over his demands for — and their opposition to — $5.7 billion to begin building a border wall. Some 800,000 federal employees are working without pay or have been furloughed at dozens of federal departments and agencies, and each side is blaming the other for the closure, which was in its 19th day on Wednesday.
The longest shutdown ever was 21 days that stretched from December 1995 into January 1996.
Polls have shown that Trump’s proposed wall and the shutdown fight have played well with his die-hard conservative supporters but poorly with the general public. The wall was one of Trump’s highest-profile campaign promises, and his performance on that issue could have a major impact on his 2020 re-election effort, while Democrats have made opposition to the proposal a cornerstone goal.
On the 2016 campaign trail, Trump promised that Mexico would pay for the wall, but Mexico has refused to do that.
Pelosi, D-Calif., said Trump forced the shutdown due to “his obsession” with a costly, ineffective wall, which she recently called “immoral.”
“President Trump must stop holding the American people hostage, must stop manufacturing a crisis and must reopen the government,” she said.
“Most presidents have used Oval Office addresses for noble purposes,” said Schumer, D-N.Y. “This president just used the backdrop of the Oval Office to manufacture a crisis.”
The Democrats’ remarks lasted just over four minutes, compared with more than nine minutes for Trump.
Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, a potential 2020 Democratic presidential contender, delivered his own response on social media. He said Trump “lies all the time,” citing the president’s assertions that Mexico would pay for the wall and his claims about the number of terrorists and amount of illegal drugs flowing across the border.
Sanders said true emergencies facing the U.S. include the number of people who remain without sufficient health care coverage, college costs that are unaffordable for many and global warming.
“Mr. President, we don’t need to create artificial crises,” he said. “We have enough real ones.”
Associated Press writer Darlene Superville contributed to this report.