Monday 17 June 2019

Jennifer Rubin: 'Trump's Oval Office speech only showed he's on the ropes'

President Donald Trump speaks from the Oval Office of the White House. Photo: Carlos Barria/Pool via AP
President Donald Trump speaks from the Oval Office of the White House. Photo: Carlos Barria/Pool via AP

Jennifer Rubin

The only thing surprising about US President Donald Trump's address from the Oval Office was how totally unnecessary and un-newsworthy it was.

Trump did not declare he was reopening the government. He did not issue an "emergency" declaration. He did not even offer any new arguments for a border wall that voters say they don't want for a crisis that doesn't exist. Instead, he delivered a weak, unconvincing promise to sit down with Democrats. Never has he looked so helpless and small.

In short, the president snookered the networks into giving him free time to commune with his base. They should not make that mistake again.

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The speech, again not surprisingly, was delivered in a wooden cadence. Without a cheering campaign-style rally filled with his cult followers, his words fell flat.

Again, as anticipated, the speech was littered with falsehoods. He claimed there was a growing crisis along the US-Mexico border, though illegal crossings are a fraction of what they were in 2000.

He bemoaned the influx of heroin, but didn't mention that the vast majority of heroin doesn't come over the border but through airports and other ports of entry.

He claimed the wall would be paid for by Nafta 2.0, the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement, but that's bunk, and no official has adequately explained how it would work.

He falsely claimed that Democrats would not fund border security. In fact, they have offered $1.3bn.

Perhaps his weirdest statement was to claim that African-Americans and Hispanics are the groups hurt most by illegal immigration.

Calling it a "humanitarian crisis - a crisis of the heart and a crisis of the soul", the president did shy away from phony claims about terrorists.

But a humanitarian crisis, of course, won't be solved by a wall. Refugees will still come to have their status adjudicated.

It's difficult to imagine Trump would change the mind of any voter not already devoted to his cause and immunised against reality. To the contrary, one wonders whether Republican members of the House, voting this week on separate bills to reopen departments of the government that have been shut down, will think, "That's all he's got?"

If so, be prepared for a substantial number of them to abandon Trump and vote with Democrats when individual spending bills come to the House floor.

Had Democrats anticipated such a nothingburger speech they might have delivered a simple message in a few seconds: However, the Democratic leaders were able to get off a fair number of zingers.

"Sadly, much of what we have heard from President Trump throughout this senseless shutdown has been full of misinformation and even malice," Speaker Nancy Pelosi began. "The president has chosen fear. We want to start with the facts."

She reminded the audience that Trump had created the shutdown: "President Trump has chosen to hold hostage critical services for the health, safety and well-being of the American people and withhold the paycheques of 800,000 innocent workers across the nation - many of them veterans. He promised to keep government shutdown for 'months or years' - no matter whom it hurts. That's just plain wrong."

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer picked up from there. "We don't govern by temper tantrum. No president should pound the table and demand he gets his way or else the government shuts down, hurting millions of Americans who are treated as leverage."

This may have been the only modern presidential address where the response was better than the president's.

Taking a step back, it's difficult to figure out why Trump did this. When Republicans bolt, it will seem even more like a personal rebuke than it would be had he not given the speech.

His weak performance is unlikely to reduce Democrats' resolve; in fact, they may see him on the ropes and believe him more vulnerable for a knockout. (© The Washington Post)

Irish Independent

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