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Televised-Addresses Highlight Divide Between Trump, Democratic Leaders


President Trump painted his drive for a border wall last night in stark terms.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: How much more American blood must we shed before Congress does its job?

INSKEEP: In an Oval Office address, the president talked of crime and drugs. As we've noted elsewhere today, most illegal drugs arrive in the U.S. through legal ports of entry. But that was a central argument for barriers between those entry points last night. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer responded.


NANCY PELOSI: Much of what we heard from President Trump throughout this senseless shutdown has been full of misinformation and even malice. The president has chosen fear.

INSKEEP: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson was listening to the speeches. Hi there, Mara.


INSKEEP: Did you hear anything new?

LIASSON: I really didn't. If this was a TV show, it would have been a rerun. Both sides repeated the arguments we've heard before. There was nothing in the president's speech that offered a new path to a compromise, a kind of legalize the DREAMers in exchange for wall funding. That's something both sides have flirted with in the past. And I think that the president needed to convince people that Democrats were intransigents because he initiated this shutdown. And he didn't do that last night. You could argue that the White House is feeling more heat from the shutdown than Democrats. Otherwise, why would they be scrambling to mitigate the damage with IRS checks, food stamps...

INSKEEP: Trying to get...

LIASSON: ...If they were so confident that Democrats would be blamed?

INSKEEP: Yeah. Trying to get parts of the government to be functioning again, even though the spending measures have not been passed. Well, let's say that they had gone for an original episode, rather than a rerun, as you said. What was the opportunity the president had last night when speaking to the nation?

LIASSON: I think the president had a couple of goals. He needed to convince voters outside of his hardcore base that shutting down the government for a wall was the right thing to do. He also needed to keep Republicans in Congress in line. He wants to stop Republicans from abandoning ship and starting to vote with Democrats to reopen the government. That's already started in the House, and there are about four or five Senate Republicans who are making noises in the same direction. And the third thing, and perhaps the most important opportunity for him is, he needed to show his base he was fighting and he needed to lay the groundwork for what might become the endgame of this whole controversy - declaring a national emergency, doing an end run around Congress and building the wall with unobligated military money.

INSKEEP: Is there still actually a compromise in sight here, Mara? Because we're talking about money. It's a few-billion dollars, which is a lot of money, but in terms of federal budgeting, not all that much money. It's money for a barrier, which is something that a lot of Democrats have voted for before. Is it actually fairly simple to compromise this, if both sides were willing?

LIASSON: I think Congress, if left to its own devices, could probably come up with something. Remember, they had come up with something that the White House said the president would sign. And then when conservative talk show hosts raised a ruckus, the president changed his mind. But yes, you're right. The Democrats have voted for steel fencing in the past, not a concrete wall. The president now says all he wants is steel fencing or a steel wall. But his insistence on the wall above every other priority has made the Democrats dig in even deeper because they have a base, too. And the wall symbolizes for them everything they hate about Donald Trump.

INSKEEP: Mara, thanks very much for the update. Really appreciate it.

LIASSON: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Morning Edition
Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.