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Pelosi, Schumer response: Reopen government while we negotiate border security

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi respond to President Donald Trump's address Tuesday night. Credit: AP/Alex Brandon

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called on President Donald Trump on Tuesday night to "stop holding the American people hostage" and immediately sign spending bills reopening the federal government as lawmakers negotiate a wide-ranging border security package.

But Pelosi and Schumer, delivering the Democratic response to Trump's Oval Office speech, said the wall on the southern border that Trump has insisted upon would be "expensive" and "ineffective." 

The dueling speeches came as the government shutdown stretches into its 18th day, the second-longest on record.

"Sadly, much of what we have heard from President Trump throughout this senseless shutdown has been full of misinformation and even malice," Pelosi said in her address from the House Speaker's Balcony Hallway. "The president has chosen fear. We want to start with the facts.

"President Trump has chosen to hold hostage critical services for the health, safety and well-being of the American people and withhold the paychecks of 800,000 innocent workers across the nation — many of them veterans," Pelosi said. "He promised to keep government shut down for ‘months or years’ — no matter whom it hurts. That’s just plain wrong."

Trump addressed the nation Tuesday for the first time from the Oval Office, portraying the government shutdown as necessary to end a "humanitarian crisis" that has allowed drugs and violent gang members to flood across the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump called on Democrats to provide him with $5.7 billion for a steel barrier on the southern border that he said was "critical" for national security.

But Democrats have refused to fund the wall, which Trump had repeatedly promised on the campaign trail would be paid for by Mexico.

"We can reopen the government and continue to work through disagreements about policy," Schumer said. "We can secure our border without an expensive, ineffective wall. And we can welcome legal immigrants and refugees without compromising safety and security."

Roughly 25 percent of the federal government has been shut in the impasse since Dec. 22.

"There is no excuse for hurting millions of Americans over a policy difference," Schumer said. "Federal workers are about to miss a paycheck. Some families can’t get a mortgage to buy a new home. Farmers and small businesses won’t get loans they desperately need."

Pelosi said Democrats agree with Republicans on many aspects of border security, including boosting infrastructure at ports of entry and adding new technology to scan cars and trucks for drugs. "We all agree that we need to secure our borders, while honoring our values," she said.

The Democrat-controlled House voted last week to reopen federal agencies, without providing the White House with border-wall funding. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell vowed not to take up the funding package without Trump's approval.

"The past 18 days have shown that Democrats’ refusal to negotiate is not due to any principled objection, but simply due to partisan spite for the president," McConnell said in a statement.

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