In his State of the Union Tuesday, President Trump vowed he would build a wall that is “a smart, strategic, see-through steel barrier.” However, he gave no indication that he would shut down the government again if Congress refused to fund it, nor did his speech go into specifics of what a deal with Democrats on immigration would look like.
As a bipartisan group of lawmakers have been tasked to hash out a deal on immigration that could keep the government fully open come its next funding deadline Feb. 15, all eyes were on what signals Trump would give in Tuesday’s speech.
Trump proposed that he and Congress “work together, compromise” to “reach a deal that will truly make America safe.” He did not show signs of softening on his wall demand, however the speech left open the option that Trump — if Democrats in Congress continued to block such funding — would seek to build it without Congress’ approval.
“In the past, most of the people in this room voted for a wall — but the proper wall never got built. I will get it built,” Trump said. The line drew a standing ovation from Republican lawmakers, while Democrats sat stone faced.
His remarks only alluded broadly to his administration’s immigration proposal that would “humanitarian assistance, more law enforcement, drug detection at our ports, closing loopholes that enable child smuggling, and plans for a new physical barrier, or wall, to secure the vast areas between our ports of entry.”
Efforts by hardliners in his administration to add cuts to legal immigration as part of a wall deal with Democrats have tanked negotiations in the past, and even on Tuesday afternoon, Republican congressional leaders were admitting they weren’t sure what the President was willing to sign.
Trump’s State of the Union — reportedly written with the involvement of Stephen Miller, an anti-immigration voice in his White House — echoed the fear-mongering and false claims about immigration that have been a constant for Trump since he announced his candidacy in 2015.
He also painted the issue of immigration as one that pits the establishment against his base.
“Wealthy politicians and donors push for open borders while living their lives behind walls and gates and guards,” Trump said. “Meanwhile, working class Americans are left to pay the price for mass illegal migration — reduced jobs, lower wages, overburdened schools and hospitals that are so crowded you can’t get in, increased crime, and a depleted social safety net.”
When discussing the wall specifically, he pointed to El Paso and San Diego to argue that walls are effective, before repeating what his been the White House’s slogan throughout the wall fight: “Simply put, walls work and walls save lives.”