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Oval Office speeches are usually reserved for unifying moments, or major presidential proclamations. Last night, President Trump used his first televised Oval Office speech to deliver a fear-based plea for his border wall.
"The federal government remains shut down for one reason, and one reason only, because Democrats will not fund border security," Trump told the country.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi responded saying, "President Trump must stop holding the American people hostage, must stop manufacturing a crisis and must re-open the government."
Now on Day 19 of the government shutdown, the president and Democrats are no closer to re-opening government, and no closer to agreeing on the realities of the southern border.
On Wednesday, Trump told reporters he is still considering declaring a national emergency to get a border wall built.
"I think we might work a deal, and if we don’t I may go that route," he said. "I have the absolute right to go national emergency if I want. My threshold will be if I can’t make a deal with people who are unreasonable."
With On Point to discuss reaction to the presidential address was Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., who has been an outspoken supporter of bringing an end to the partial government shutdown.
What is the Democratic alternative to a border wall?
"Well, the dispute has never been about the need for effective border security. We need effective border security. In fact, while the government's being shut down now, you've got the folks who are providing that security, both along the border as well as at airports, the folks at TSA, who are having to go to work without any pay.
“So what we've proposed is let's not hold the country hostage to this debate and this dispute as to the most effective way to provide border security. Certainly, let's re-open the eight of the nine federal departments that have nothing to do with border security, and then we can figure out the best way to go about this. But shutting down the government, denying services to millions of Americans and an increasing number every day, and requiring 800,000 people to go without pay, some working without pay, is not the right way to deal with this.
"There are funds in the legislation supported by Democrats to fund border security in an effective way. That already includes, I should indicate, barriers along certain parts of the border that were built before president Trump became president. It also includes, obviously, border security personnel, as well as technology. The president mentioned last night some of the drugs coming across the southern border. The way to deal with that is to increase screening at ports of entry, which is where the drugs are coming from. Building a 2,000-mile wall is not going to stop that, because it's smuggled through places where people come through normal ports of entry.
"So these are some common sense things, but for goodness sake, stop holding the country hostage. We should have that debate, but we shouldn't be denying services and throwing 800,000 people out of work without paychecks."
"There are funds in the legislation supported by Democrats to fund border security in an effective way. That already includes, I should indicate, barriers along certain parts of the border that were built before President Trump became president."Sen. Chris Van Hollen
Given the recent comments of Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, could the Senate separate border wall funding from the government operating?
"Well, I was heartened by the comments made by Sen. Murkowski. There are a number of other senators, Republican senators now, who have taken the same position. And last night, here in the Senate, Senate Democrats united to send a strong signal that the first order of business has to be re-opening the government. and that we have the keys to reopen the government right here in the Senate because the House of Representatives, as their first order of business, passed two bills.
"One was virtually identical to what the Senate passed just before Christmas: re-opening the Department of Homeland Security and keeping it operational until Feb. 8 while we have this debate with the president. The other one would re-open the federal government at funding levels supported by Senate Republicans. So, let's vote on that. If the president wants to veto it, that's his decision. But, our Senate colleagues should not be complicit and become accomplices in this shutdown that Donald Trump said he would be proud to do."
What do you plan to do if President Trump declares a national state of emergency?
"Well, I think as we've looked at the powers of the president, it's increasingly clear that that would be a very legally suspect approach for the president to take. It's pretty clear that he may have power to somehow declare a national emergency, but it is not at all clear that he has the legal authority to order the military to construct a 2,000-mile-long wall along the southern border as part of that authority.
"And, as you know, you've got House Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee, the leading House Republican on the House Armed Services Committee [Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas,] has said he's opposed to the president using his emergency authority in that way. It really is an abuse of power. It's a way to try to go around the constitutional processes we have for making decisions. And just because the president doesn't like the result doesn't mean that he can try to use this kind of authority in an illegal way."
"It's pretty clear that he may have power to somehow declare a national emergency, but it is not at all clear that he has the legal authority to order the military to construct a 2,000-mile-long wall along the southern border as part of that authority."Sen. Chris Van Hollen
What is your reaction to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein reportedly leaving his position when the new attorney general is confirmed? Do you have concerns?
"I do have concerns about Rod Rod Rosenstein leaving. He has been somebody who has preserved the integrity of the Mueller investigation during his period of time overseeing that. Now, we have somebody coming in, in Bill Barr, who is going to have his hearing before the Senate shortly, who essentially auditioned for the job of attorney general by telling the Justice Department, the president, that he did not think that the Mueller investigation was justified and even questioned its legitimacy.
"So, this is a very dangerous moment, in my view, to the rule of law to see Rod leaving. And as to this being voluntary, I would just remind people that the president at one time suggested that Rod Rosenstein, among others, should be imprisoned because he was part of this effort to call for a special counsel to do this investigation. So, it's hard to believe that if Rod Rosenstein was pleased with the way things were going and felt that people respected his views, that he'd be leaving. I think this is a dangerous moment, and it's just another moment in an administration that has unfortunately undermined important institutions like the Department of Justice and the rule of law. And we saw it again last night, where the president just had another allergy to the truth. Fact-checkers had to work overtime on his eight-minute-long speech."
Alex Schroeder and David Marino adapted this interview for the web.
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