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Trump’s First Oval Office Address Filled with False Claims, Conway Keeps Repeating Them Anyway

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WASHINGTON, January 9, 2019 — As the second-longest government shutdown in American history enters its third week, President Trump on Tuesday attempted to galvanize public support for his unpopular proposal to build a wall at the country’s southern border with a televised, prime-time address to the nation.

After the broadcast networks broke into their regularly-scheduled programming, the president appeared on screen shortly after 9 p.m. to address his fellow Americans about what he called “a growing humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border,” caused by “thousands of illegal immigrants trying to enter our country.”

Trump spoke while sitting at the Resolute desk, behind which past presidents have delivered televised remarks at pivotal moments in history. These include John F. Kennedy’s warning to the Soviets during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Lyndon Johnson’s declining to seek a second full term, and Richard Nixon’s announcing his resignation amidst the turmoil of Watergate, Gerald Ford’s putting an end to the “long national nightmare” by pardoning Nixon days later, Ronald Reagan’s consoling Americans after Challenger disaster, and George W. Bush’s comforting and reassuring a traumatized nation after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Unlike those singular examples of presidential oratory, Trump’s ten-minute-long speech broke no new ground.

Mischaracterizations and falsehoods began almost immediately, with the president’s claim that Customs and Border Protection officers encounter “thousands of illegal immigrants trying to enter the country each day.”

The president then attempted to draw a line from the number of aliens — legal and otherwise — arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to a claimed epidemic of violent crime resulting from the lack of a physical barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“Over the years, thousands of Americans have been brutally killed by those who illegally entered our country, and thousands more lives will be lost if we don’t act right now,” he said.

Trump also attempted to tie current immigration and border security policies to the nationwide opioid epidemic by repeating his claim that the lack of a border wall has turned the southern border into “a pipeline for vast quantities of illegal drugs, including meth, heroin, cocaine, and fentanyl.”

Trump has frequently suggested that the fentanyl responsible for so many overdose deaths is brought into the United States from Mexico despite the fact that the vast majority of fentanyl sold on American streets comes from Chinese manufacturers and makes its way to the U.S. through the mail or through ports of entry.

Numerous studies have found that immigrants, regardless of status, commit crimes at far lower rates than native-born Americans. Moreover, most drug smuggling — and drug seizures by Customs and Border Protection officers — takes places at ports of entry.

While Trump’s use of the phrase “illegal immigration” brings to mind the image of men and women furtively crossing the border by evading border patrol officers, administration officials openly admit that the number of actual illegal immigrants caught while attempting to cross the border has been on the decline for years. In fact, it is the lowest it has been in decades.

Most people who are residing in the United States illegally came here not through a furtive dash through the desert, but through a passport line on a tourist visa.

Trump also invoked the scourge of human smugglers known as “coyotes” while claiming that 20,000 children “were illegally brought into the country” last month. But as the children in question were granted legal status while their asylum claims are pending, this claim falls flat.

Asked why the president continues to deliberately mischaracterize persons exercising the right to claim asylum in the U.S. as “illegal immigrants,” Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway said Wednesday that such a distinction was nothing more than “semantics” because “not everyone who presents a claim of fear has a credible claim of fear.”

Conway complained that under current law, families seeking asylum are required to be released into the United States during the pendency of their claims.

When it was pointed out to Conway that the asylum process is a legal method of immigrating to the United States, she told reporters that “that’s not true” because Mexico is a “safe third country” from which immigrants could apply for asylum. “Under the law, they could certainly stay there while their claims are being processed.”.

While the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Responsibility Act bars asylum to aliens who can be returned to a “safe third country,” the Immigration and Nationality Act requires a bilateral or multilateral agreement to be in place between the United States and that country before the 1996 law can be invoked to deny anyone asylum.

The U.S. has a “safe third country” agreement with Canada, but no such agreement exists between the U.S. and Mexico.

When pressed further, Conway again tried to deny that the asylum process is a legal one, telling BeltwayBreakfast: “As a woman, as a mother, I don’t want these kids raped, trafficked, getting into drugs. I care about the kids on that side on the border, I care about kids on this side of the border, and I think it’s high time that people rise above the partisanship and agree on that very basic point,” she said.

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Andrew Feinberg covers the White House, Capitol Hill, and anything else you can think of for BeltwayBreakfast.com and BroadbandBreakfast.com. Andrew has reported on policy and politics in the nation's capital since 2007, and his writing has appeared in publications like The Hill, Politico, Communications Daily, Silicon Angle, and Washington Business Journal. He has also appeared on both daytime and prime radio and television news programs on NPR, Sirius-XM, CNN, MSNBC, ABC (Australia), Al Jazeera, NBC Digital, Voice of America, TV Rain (Russia) and CBS News. Andrew wishes he could say he lives in Washington, DC with his dog, but unfortunately, he lives in a no-dogs building in suburban Maryland.

White House

Trump Declares National Emergency After He Doesn’t Get His Way With Border Wall Funding

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President Trump announces that he'll be declaring a national emergency to attempt to fund his border wall in the White House Rose Garden on February 15, 2019 (Screenshot/C-SPAN)

WASHINGTON, February 15, 2019 — President Donald Trump on Friday reacted to Congress’ refusal to fully fund his proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border by invoking emergency powers which purportedly allow him to “reprogram” federal funds without the consent of Congress.

“Today I am announcing several critical actions that my administration is taking.”

“We’re going to confront the [national security] crisis on our souther border,” Trump said, adding: “Everyone knows that walls work,” Trump said, citing Israel’s security barrier along the West Bank in the Middle East.

Trump called the idea that most illicit drugs come into the U.S. through ports of entry a “lie” despite statistics from his own Department of Homeland Security which show that most illicit drugs are seized at ports of entry.

“You can’t take big loads through ports of entry,” Trump said. He also suggested that human trafficking was not possible through ports of entry because border agents would see women who are “tied up in the trunk.”

“It’s all a big lie, it’s a big con game. You don’t have to be smart to know you put up a barrier… and people can’t come in until they go right or left and there’s no barrier.”

Trump said that his declaration was not a significant departure from precedent because other presidents had used the National Emergencies Act many times since 1976, when it was signed into law by then-President Gerald Ford.

“It’s been signed many times before. They sign it, nobody cares, I guess they weren’t very exciting.”

“We’re talking about an invasion of our country with drugs, with human traffickers, with all types of criminals and gangs,” he said, citing the existence of “Angel Moms,” a designation for mothers whose children were killed by undocumented immigrants. The designation was created by anti-immigrant group the Remembrance Project.

“So we’re going to be signing a national emergency,” Trump said, calling it “a great thing to do” because of the “invasion” from our country.

He also suggested that China’s drug policy was superior to the United States’ because China executes drug dealers.

Friday’s announcement, the likes of which Trump has openly considered for months, will undoubtedly set up a confrontation between the executive branch and both the legislative and judicial branches as Congress seeks to retain its own constitutional authority over the public purse.

While Congress has seen fit to appropriate only $1.375 billion for border barrier construction, White House Acting Chief of Staff and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said that the declaration will allow Trump to redirect three “pots of money.”

These include 600 million from the Justice Department’s asset forfeiture fund, $2.5 billion from the Pentagon’s anti-drug efforts, and $3.6 billion from the Pentagon’s construction budget, regardless of Congress’ express intentions.

A senior administration official said the total of $8 billion will allow Trump to order construction of approximately 234 miles of “bollard wall” barrier.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., blasted the president’s decision in a statement Thursday.

“Declaring a national emergency would be a lawless act, a gross abuse of the power of the presidency and a desperate attempt to distract from the fact that President Trump broke his core promise to have Mexico pay for his wall,” they wrote

“It is yet another demonstration of President Trump’s naked contempt for the rule of law. This is not an emergency, and the president’s fear-mongering doesn’t make it one. He couldn’t convince Mexico, the American people or their elected representatives to pay for his ineffective and expensive wall, so now he’s trying an end-run around Congress in a desperate attempt to put taxpayers on the hook for it. The Congress will defend our constitutional authorities.”

Even some Republicans criticized the decision and suggested it exceeded the president’s constitutional authority.

“We have a crisis at our southern border, but no crisis justifies violating the Constitution,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said in a statement Thursday.

Maine Senator Susan Collins noted in a statement that the National Emergencies Act, the 1976 law the White House is making use of, was intended for natural disasters or terror attacks.

“It is also of dubious constitutionality, and it will almost certainly be challenged in the courts,” she added.

Collins’ and Rubio’s convictions may be put to the test if Pelosi and House Democrats pass a so-called “resolution of disapproval” to terminate the emergency, which would force Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to hold a vote on the resolution.

McConnell had previously spoken out against the idea of Trump declaring a national emergency on the border, but changed his tune Thursday after the president told him that he’d be signing the appropriations bill needed to stave off another government shutdown.

While Democrats warned that Trump’s invocation of the National Emergencies Act could create a precedent for future Democratic president to follow to take action on gun control or climate change, a senior administration official said Trump’s declaration “creates zero precedent.”

“The president is not waving a magic wand,” the official said, adding that the authority to declare a national emergency has been on the books since 1976.

When asked whether the president was claiming he had authority to ignore specific prohibitions against use of appropriated funds for wall construction, the official claimed that the use of reprogrammed funds in violation of Congress’ prohibition is permissible because those prohibitions do not apply to the previously-appropriated funds the president will be reprogramming.

“This is common authority,” he said.

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White House

McConnell Says Trump to Sign Funding Bill, Declare National Emergency at Border

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WASHINGTON, February 14, 2019 — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday said that President Donald Trump will sign legislation to fund the federal government through the end of the fiscal year, but will declare a national emergency to attempt to repurpose already-appropriated funds for his proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

In a statement, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed that the president will both sign legislation to fund the government and “take other executive action – including a national emergency – to ensure we stop the national security and humanitarian crisis at the border.”

“The President is once again delivering on his promise to build the wall, protect the border, and secure our great country,” she added. 

The decision to declare a national emergency will set up a confrontation with members of Congress, some of whom are protective of the legislative branch’s power to appropriate funds.

Under the National Emergencies Act, if either the House or Senate passes a so-called resolution of disapproval, the other chamber must hold a vote on the same resolution.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Thursday that she “may” challenge the president’s forthcoming declaration in court.

“I’m going to review our options” she said, calling Trump’s decision “an end-run on Congress.”

Pelosi added that the current situation at the border “is not an emergency,” and cautioned that Trump could be setting a dangerous precedent.

“The precedent that the president is setting here is something that should be greeted with great unease and dismay by the Republicans and we’ll respond accordingly,” she said.

Sanders later told reporters that the White House is “very prepared” for a legal challenge, but said there shouldn’t be any.

“The president is doing his job, Congress should do theirs, she said.”

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Here we go again?

Sanders Won’t Rule Out Another Shutdown, Leaves Open Possibility of Compromise Bill Veto

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WASHINGTON, February 13, 2019 — President Donald Trump has not yet ruled out shutting down the government if he is unhappy with the compromise bill Congress plans to send him, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday.

“We want to see what the final piece of legislation looks like,” Sanders said when asked about several media reports which indicated that the president would sign the bill, which has been assembled over the past few weeks by a House-Senate conference committee. 

“It’s hard to say definitively whether or not the president is going to sign it until we know everything that’s in it.”

 Sanders admitted there were “some positive pieces” in the proposed appropriations bill, which provides just over a billion dollars for improvements to existing fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border, but rejected the idea that funding levels in the bill are similar to the deal the president blew up in December after being criticized by right-wing talk radio hosts.

She also stressed that a shutdown is “not what [Trump] wants,” but attempted to preemptively blame Democrats for any shutdown the president might cause by refusing to sign the bipartisan legislation.

“If [a shutdown] happens again, that will be because the Democrats completely failed to do their job and work with the president to secure our border.”

A decision by the president to veto the compromise legislation could lead the Congress to attempt to override that veto. 

But the president has indicated that rather than veto the funding, he may take the constitutionally-questionable route of using executive authority to “reprogram” money appropriated for other purposes to build his wall, which was a centerpiece of his 2016 presidential campaign but is overwhelmingly opposed by a majority of Americans.

Still, Sanders dismissed the suggestion that by attempting to reprogram already-appropriated funds — a decision which would almost certainly be challenged in the courts — the president was planning to “go it alone.”

“Most people across the country know that we need border security and the biggest responsibility the president has is to protect the people of this country,” she said. “I think he’s got the support of Americans all over this country and I’d hardly say that’s going alone.”

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