WASHINGTON — President Trump's Oval Office plea for a steel barrier at the southern border left New York Democrats — from the state's two U.S. senators to Rep. Brian Higgins of Buffalo — aghast.
But Republican Reps. Chris Collins and Tom Reed offered a far more positive spin on Trump's speech Tuesday night. They said the president delivered the right message at the right time in hopes of ending the border wall stalemate that has caused a partial government shutdown that will enter its 19th day Wednesday.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York shared the podium with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for the Democrats' official response to the Trump speech.
"My fellow Americans, we address you tonight for one reason only: The President of the United States — having failed to get Mexico to pay for his ineffective, unnecessary border wall, and unable to convince the Congress or the American people to foot the bill — has shut down the government," Schumer said.
By doing that, Trump is using federal workers as leverage to get what he wants — and Democrats won't accept it, Schumer said.
"American democracy doesn’t work that way," he said. "We don’t govern by temper tantrum."
Instead, Schumer offered Trump a way out of the stalemate, in which Trump insists on $5.7 billion for a new border barrier and Democrats refuse to give him more than the $1.3 billion for border security, agreed to in a bipartisan Senate deal last year.
"There is an obvious solution: Separate the shutdown from the arguments over border security," Schumer said. "There is bipartisan legislation — supported by Democrats and Republicans — to reopen government while allowing debate over border security to continue."
New York's other senator, Kirsten E. Gillibrand, said that in his speech, Trump deliberately misled the American public and stoked fear by exaggerating the problems caused by undocumented immigrants crossing into America from Mexico.
"The only crisis at our southern border is the humanitarian one he has created," Gillibrand said on Twitter. "Any funding for a wall would divert needed resources from healthcare, education and job creation."
One of Trump's strongest supporters in Congress — Collins, a Clarence Republican — offered a radically different take on the president's speech.
“I applaud President Trump’s efforts to implement stronger security measures along our southern border," Collins said in a statement. "It’s time that Congress worked together to pass bipartisan legislation that effectively ends the border security and humanitarian crises once and for all. I will continue to stand with President Trump in prioritizing the safety of the American people, and work to reopen the government in a timely manner.”
Reed — a Republican from Corning — said: "Tonight, the President laid out common-sense reasons to secure our southern border."
Reed indicated the problem of illegal immigration at the southern border is every bit as serious as Trump said. He noted that Americans die of heroin overdoses because of drugs that spill over the border, that immigrant women are sexually assaulted as human traffickers help them cross the border and that terrorists could conceivably cross a border that's not well fortified.
Reed said: "I urge politicians on both sides of the aisle to be proactive instead of reactive in finding a solution to this growing crisis for the people we represent."
Higgins, like many Democrats, offered a critique of the president's speech.
"It's more of the same — the same message that got rejected in the midterm election," where Democrats won control of the House, Higgins said. "Nothing's changed. Tonight just laid out again the president's proven ineptitude and incompetence."
The speech won't win over many converts, Higgins predicted. Nor did it preview a path to ending the shutdown.
Asked how the shutdown might end, Higgins said: "I don't know. I don't think we're dealing with anything where there was a historical precedent."