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Trump to address the nation live tonight as he nears showdown on Mexico border wall

Trump has also pledged a “prudent” US withdrawal of troops of Syria.

Image: Chris Kleponis DPA/PA Images

US PRESIDENT DONALD Trump is set to deliver a primetime address to the nation on immigration as he pushes for a showdown in his battle for a controversial US-Mexico border wall.

Trump’s plans for a national address at 9pm (2am tomorrow Irish time) and a trip to the actual border on Thursday raise the stakes in the row with congressional Democrats refusing to fund his wall project. The stalemate has led to a partial government shutdown now in its third week.

Democratic leaders responded to Trump’s planned speech by calling for equal airtime to rebut the president’s “malice and misinformation”, though it is not yet clear how major networks will respond.

The events – giving Trump the national stage against two very different backdrops – give him a chance to try to seize the narrative.

They also follow his threats to bypass Congress by invoking emergency powers to order wall construction.

Those powers would in theory allow Trump to seek alternative funding for the wall and possibly free him to reopen parts of the federal government shutdown as part of his row with Congress.

However, opponents would almost certainly accuse him of presidential overreach and respond with court challenges.

So far the White House has given no heads up regarding the details of Trump’s message.

Trump simply tweeted that his address from the Oval Office tonight will cover “the Humanitarian and National Security crisis on our Southern Border”.

Thursday’s trip, his spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said, will be to “the frontlines of the national security and humanitarian crisis”. The exact destination was not made public.

“President Trump keeps rejecting the bipartisan House-passed bills, which have already received strong bipartisan support in the Senate, to re-open the government,” said a joint statement by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

“Now that the television networks have decided to air the President’s address, which if his past statements are any indication will be full of malice and misinformation, Democrats must immediately be given equal airtime,” they added.

Government paralysed

Trump has made building a wall the central theme of his nationalist domestic policies.

He paints the Mexico border as an open gate for criminals, including rapists, terrorists, people with dangerous diseases and phony asylum seekers.

The border has indeed for years seen significant numbers of illegal immigrants and a thriving drug trade. However, fact checkers have debunked the more hair-raising claims, including those regarding terrorist threats.

Most recently, Sanders claimed on Sunday in an interview on the usually Trump-friendly Fox News channel that “nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists come into our country illegally”. However, the interviewer immediately called her out, citing the government’s own information that none of those individuals arrived across the southern border.

Democrats, who won control of the House of Representatives in midterm legislative elections, say Trump overblows the “crisis” and call the wall a political stunt not worth taxpayer money.

In retaliation, Trump has refused to sign a wider spending package – leaving sections of the federal government without funding and hundreds of thousands of employees facing delays in their paychecks.

Syria

The US president has meanwhile sought to end fears of an abrupt US pullout from Syria, saying the fight against the Islamic State group is not over and that withdrawal would be done in a “prudent” manner.

“We will be leaving at a proper pace while at the same time continuing to fight ISIS and doing all else that is prudent and necessary!” Trump tweeted.

The president has come under withering pressure both at home and in allied capitals after previous statements indicating that he considered the IS group vanquished and that he wanted US troops out of Syria imminently.

Trump’s new statement follows a trip by his national security adviser John Bolton to Israel in which he told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday that withdrawal would not happen before “ISIS is defeated and not able to revive itself”.

Tweet by @Donald J. Trump Source: Donald J. Trump/Twitter

In a call, Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron spoke of “the commitment of the United States and France to the destruction of ISIS as well as plans for a strong, deliberate, and coordinated withdrawal of US troops from Syria,” the White House said.

“They reiterated that any further use of chemical weapons in Syria must not be tolerated.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he had spoken with French officials. “We’ll make sure we address the concerns that they have. Everyone understands what the United States is doing,” he told reporters as he headed on a Middle East visit.

The reassurances followed a diplomatic storm caused by Trump’s surprise announcement in December that appeared to signal a rapid withdrawal from Syria, where US special forces play an important role in supporting local forces fighting IS.

“We’ve won against ISIS,” he said at the time. “We’ve beaten them and we’ve beaten them badly. We’ve taken back the land. And now it’s time for our troops to come back home.”

Allies like Britain and France warned that IS was not defeated. Questions were also raised over the fate of Kurdish groups that have done much of the fighting alongside the United States in Syria, but now fear attacks from Turkey.

The initial pullout promise also sparked outspoken opposition from within Trump’s Republican party and the resignation of respected defence secretary James Mattis.

In yesterday’s statement, Trump complained that media coverage had skewed his original words, saying that his latest position on Syria was “no different from my original statements”.

Currently, about 2,000 US forces are in the Syria, which is in the grips of a complex civil war. Most of the US soldiers are there to train local forces fighting the hardcore-Islamist IS.

“We will continue to work with the coalition and regional partners toward an enduring defeat of ISIS,” Commander Sean Robertson, a Pentagon spokesman, told AFP.

© AFP 2019  

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