United States president Donald Trump has demanded funding for his long-promised US-Mexico border wall to halt “a growing humanitarian and security crisis”. But in his first TV address to the nation from the Oval Office, Mr Trump did not declare a national emergency to bypass Congress and build the barrier.
In a televised rebuttal, Democratic leaders accused the president of holding the American people hostage. Both sides are trying to gain an edge amid an 18-day government shutdown.
The Republican president wants US$ 5.7bn to build a steel barrier, which would deliver on his signature campaign pledge, but Democrats are adamantly opposed to giving him the funds.
The current closure of a quarter of federal agencies is the second-longest in history, leaving hundreds of thousands of government workers unpaid.
In an eight-minute address on Tuesday night carried live by all the major US television networks, Mr. Trump said the federal government remained shut because of Democrats.
He said of the situation at the border: This is a humanitarian crisis, a crisis of the heart and a crisis of the soul.
Mr. Trump said an as-yet-un-ratified revamp of the North American Free Trade Agreement would pay for the wall, though economists have previously disputed this claim.
The president also said that 90% of heroin sold in the US came from Mexico, though US government figures make clear all but a small percentage is smuggled through legal points of entry.
However, Mr. Trump correctly pointed out that Democrats had in the past supported a physical barrier. In 2006, Senators Chuck Schumer, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden voted in favor of 1,120km of fencing on the nearly 2,000-mile border under the Secure Fence Act.
Aiming to keep up the pressure, President Trump will seek to rally ruffled Republican senators at Capitol Hill on Wednesday before hosting congressional leaders for talks at the White House. On Thursday he heads to the border.
In a brief rebuttal, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer demanded that Mr. Trump end the shutdown. Senator Schumer accused Mr. Trump of trying to govern by temper tantrum and of manufacturing a crisis.
President Trump has appealed to fear, not facts. Division, not unity, the New York senator added. He concluded: The symbol of America should be the Statue of Liberty, not a 30-foot wall.
Though both Democrats and Republicans agree there is a crisis at the border, critics have accused Mr. Trump of greatly exaggerating the problem. The number of illegal border crossings is down from 1.6 million in 2000 to fewer than 400,000 last year.
And research indicates that undocumented immigrants are much less likely to commit crime than native-born American citizens.