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Trump ratchets up plea for a border wall, calling it a ‘crisis of the soul’

As seen from a window outside the Oval Office, President Donald Trump gives a prime-time address about border security Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2018, at the White House in Washington. | Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo

government shutdown

But the president does not yet declare a national emergency or lay out a path for reopening the federal government.

Updated

President Donald Trump on Tuesday night made a public plea for border wall funds, claiming law enforcement officials are the ones demanding such a physical barrier, while blaming Democrats for the prolonged government shutdown.

But the president did not pull the trigger on a national emergency declaration that would potentially allow him to secure wall funds without Congress, but would also inevitably draw a nasty court battle.

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“This is a humanitarian crisis. A crisis of the heart, and a crisis of the soul,” Trump said in a rare televised address from the Oval Office.

Trump opened his address by stating that the United States is suffering from a humanitarian and security crisis at the border, as he urged Congress to provide billions of dollars for a steel barrier, calling such a wall “absolutely critical.”

“As part of an overall approach to border security, law enforcement professionals have requested $ 5.7 billion for a physical barrier,” Trump added, even though the wall proposal is his own core campaign promise that he has struggled to fulfill.

The president also tried to present himself as a dealmaker and attempted to shift blame to Democrats who have refused to give in to his wall funding demands.

“At the request of Democrats it will be a steel barrier rather than a concrete wall,” Trump added.

Trump so far has forged ahead with his demands for $ 5.7 billion in wall funding, while Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have called his proposal “immoral.” The impasse has pushed the government into one of the longest shutdowns in U.S. history.

In recent days, Trump has changed tacks, offering a steel barrier instead of a concrete wall and openly flirting with declaring a national emergency to secure the funds. But such a declaration would inevitably invite a court challenge that would leave Trump no closer to getting his wall, even if it would provide the president cover with his base.

The political stakes are spiking as the ramifications of the shutdown are spreading throughout the nation, potentially disrupting tax refunds, airport travel and the paychecks of roughly 800,000 federal workers.

Trump and his aides are now going on the offensive. Besides Trump’s primetime speech, Vice President Mike Pence has been sitting for TV interviews, top aides are briefing lawmakers, and Trump is planning a trip to the border on Thursday.

The White House also planned to host a conference call with surrogates and allies about the “crisis at our border” at 9:30 p.m. on Tuesday night after the president’s speech, according to an email invitation obtained by POLITICO.

But Democrats were also eager to get their case across. After demanding equal airtime, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer offered a rebuttal to Trump’s speech Tuesday evening.

Andrew Restuccia contributed to this report.

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