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In Prime-Time Address, Trump To Explain The Need For A Border Wall


President Trump is campaigning to keep part of a campaign promise. He said while running for office that he would build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and that Mexico would pay for it. Hoping that Congress will pay for it, the president provoked a partial government shutdown and addresses the nation from the Oval Office tonight. He then heads to the southern border later this week. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is here to talk us through this. Hi, Tam.


INSKEEP: How does this work exactly? - because the president is addressing the whole country on a priority that, according to surveys, is strongly supported by only a minority.

KEITH: This is a PR offensive. This is the president of the United States trying to convince not just his base but the rest of the country that there is a crisis. We're going to hear that word a lot. Vice President Mike Pence yesterday, briefing reporters, said it again and again. He says there is a crisis along the southern border - a humanitarian crisis and a security crisis. The challenge that the administration has is that they have to somehow convince the American public both that there is a crisis - and that is not certain - and also that the president's wall is the way to solve it.

INSKEEP: We should note that immigration levels or migration levels have gone up recently but are still well below historic levels. And I guess the other question is how a wall solves a humanitarian crisis, if that's what it is.

KEITH: Right. And the administration is talking about other things that they want from Congress in these negotiations, including more money for immigration judges, more money for addressing the medical needs - the very severe medical needs of some of these migrants. But those things are not a wall.

INSKEEP: Is it certain that the president is on his way to declaring a state of emergency, which is something that the administration has talked about as a way to free up the funding without getting the approval of Congress?

KEITH: It's not certain. But the president has said that they're very seriously considering it. The vice president told us yesterday that the White House counsel's office is looking at it - they're considering it - but that they would much rather work out something with Congress. What we do know, though, is that if the president wants to declare a state of emergency, he can. The power of the president is pretty unlimited when it comes to that. But folks I've talked to say that if he does and he uses the military to build the wall, that it would, potentially, be considered an abuse of power. And also, there are very serious questions about policy there.

INSKEEP: Well, Republicans were deeply upset when President Obama acted unilaterally on immigration. Are they ready to support the president if he acts unilaterally on immigration?

KEITH: You know, it's really not clear whether they would be. Republicans have long been divided over the - whether the wall is really the best idea or even a good idea. And declaring an emergency, going around Congress to take money from the military to use it for the wall - there are, certainly, some people who would have concerns about that, including some people with Rs next to their name.

INSKEEP: Is the administration preparing for a longer shutdown?

KEITH: Yes. Well - or at least they are saying that they want to make it as painless as possible for the American people. It won't be painless. But one thing that they are doing is making sure that the IRS will continue to send out tax refunds.

INSKEEP: Tamara, thanks for the update, really appreciate it.

KEITH: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: NPR's Tamara Keith. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.