WASHINGTON — Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., accused President Donald Trump on Tuesday night of using "the backdrop of the Oval Office to manufacture a crisis" in his prime-time address to the nation.
“We can secure our border without an expensive, ineffective wall. And we can welcome legal immigrants and refugees without compromising safety and security,” said Schumer during the brief official Democratic response to the president's remarks. "The symbol of America should be the Statue of Liberty, not a 30-foot wall."
“There is an obvious solution: separate the shutdown from the arguments over border security," Schumer said, standing beside Pelosi in the Capitol. "There is bipartisan legislation — supported by Democrats and Republicans — to re-open government while allowing debate over border security to continue.”
Pelosi said, “The president is rejecting these bipartisan bills which would re-open government — over his obsession with forcing American taxpayers to waste billions of dollars on an expensive and ineffective wall — a wall he always promised Mexico would pay for!”
The two spoke after Trump’s eight-minute speech from the Oval Office.
“Most presidents have used Oval Office addresses for noble purposes," said Schumer. "This president just used the backdrop of the Oval Office to manufacture a crisis, stoke fear and divert attention from the turmoil in his administration.”
In his address minutes earlier, Trump accused Democrats in Congress of refusing to acknowledge the crisis on the border. "The federal government remains shutdown for one reason and one reason only — because Democrats will not fund border security," he said. "The only solution is for Democrats to pass a spending bill that defends our borders and reopens the government.”
Trump argued that the U.S.-Mexico border has served as a “pipeline” for illegal drugs and that it was a “crisis of the heart and crisis of the soul.”
Their statements came on the 18th day of the federal government shutdown, which began Dec. 22, after Democrats and Republicans failed to reach a compromise and break the impasse over the president’s $5.7 billion border wall funding request.
Other Democrats, including potential 2020 presidential contenders, echoed the leadership's attack accusing Trump of pushing a phony crisis.
"Mr. President, we don’t need to create artificial crises. We have enough real ones," Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said in a video statement released on social media. "The President did nothing tonight to offer a solution to families who will miss their paychecks this Friday. He needs to stop this self-made crisis and open the government," tweeted Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.
".@realDonaldTrump is deliberately misleading Americans and stoking fear. The only crisis at our southern border is the humanitarian one he has created," tweeted yet another contender, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.
"The President has manufactured a humanitarian crisis. It is solely Trump’s fault NOT the Democrats," tweeted Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J., went still further: "Donald Trump’s Presidency is a security and humanitarian crisis."
Former Texas Democratic Rep. Beto O'Rourke said on a Facebook livestream that, "I think [Trump] has seized this emotional language very effectively, completely irresponsibly, not tethered to the truth. "But if I don't live in El Paso, if I hadn't had the experience that we had — if I live in Michigan, Iowa, Oregon, the northern border, I don't — I may not know any better. And s---, the president of the United States just said that there are rapists and criminals and murderers who will chop your head off coming to get us. 'F--- yeah, build a wall.'"
Congressional leadership has been invited back to the White House for another meeting in the Situation Room at 3 p.m. ET on Wednesday to discuss border wall funding. Pelosi, Schumer, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., will be among those attending, multiple sources told NBC News.
Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are also expected to meet with Senate Republicans behind closed doors Wednesday during their weekly lunch.
Some Senate Republicans have grown increasingly frustrated with the shutdown. Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, for example, on Tuesday called on Congress and the president to open up the rest of government not related to DHS while negotiations continue over a border wall, saying “we don't need to hold up these six other departments at the same time that we are resolving these very important security issues." Murkowski's call came after Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Cory Gardner, R-Colo., called for the same last week.
A few hours before Trump’s remarks, two House Democrats from California — Jackie Speier and Jared Huffman — brought what they said was garbage picked up at national parks last weekend and delivered it to the White House. With the shutdown now in its third week, trash at the parks has been accumulating, and some have been forced to close, such as Joshua Tree National Park in California, because of the damage.
Trump, for his part, has repeatedly doubled down on his demand for a wall, and even floated the idea last Friday of declaring a national emergency in order to circumvent Congress and unilaterally authorize construction himself. In those same comments, Trump also threatened to keep the government shutdown “months or even years” if Congress does not pass funding for his border wall.
About 800,000 federal workers are affected by the shutdown, with 420,000 required to work without pay while 380,000 are furloughed.
Both Pelosi and Schumer have refused to budge on their position of opposing the border wall, especially now that Democrats have regained control of the House majority.
After two White House meetings last week between Trump and congressional leaders failed to produce any progress, staff for those lawmakers met with Pence and other White House aides over the weekend, but still were unable to break the stalemate.
After Democrats took control of the House Thursday, they passed two spending bills aimed at ending the shutdown, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said he will not bring the measures up in the Senate because Trump has said he would veto them.