WASHINGTON, D.C. — As the partial federal government shutdown dragged into its third week, a former U.S. Senate leader from Mississippi slammed fellow Republicans President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for the stalemate over funding a southern border wall.
Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott blamed the shutdown on an ongoing lack of leadership in Washington, from the presidency and Congress. Lott spoke to Mississippi Today from the glass paneled conference room in the offices of his D.C. lobbying firm hours before President Trump, in a prime-time Oval Office address, accused Democrats of causing the shutdown by not giving in to the White House’s demand for $5.7 billion for a border wall.
“It’s all bullshit,” Lott told Mississippi Today on Tuesday. “We need security. We need to control the border, but now it’s about symbolism. Democrats are not one dollar for a wall. (Republicans say) ‘We’re being invaded, we’ve got to have the wall.’”
“It’s as bad as I’ve ever seen it.”
On Dec. 22, the federal government partially shut down, which affected nine federal departments and dozens of government agencies.
With 800,000 federal government employees going without pay and billions of dollars in funding for government programs in jeopardy, President Trump made his case to a national television audience: The U.S. is in the midst of a “humanitarian crisis,” Trump said, and demanded Democrats provide funding for a border wall and other security measures.
“The federal government remains shut down for one reason and one reason only because Democrats will not fund border security,” Trump said from the Oval Office. “My administration is doing everything in our power to help those impacted by the situation. But the only solution is for Democrats to pass a spending bill that defends our borders and reopens the government.”
Lott said Republicans should offer Democrats a deal to reform DACA, an Obama-era program that the Trump administration has tried to kill. The program allows immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children to remain in the country. Meanwhile, Trump said Democrats should negotiate with the White House on a smaller price tag for border security.
“When you’re one of 100 (senators) you don’t get 100 percent of what you want,” Lott said. “You have to know people. You have to test people. You have to see how much you can get. Reagan even said give me 60 percent of anything, I’ll take it and I’ll come back and try to get more later. So you have to be strong, you have to show courage, you have to lead.”
However, with the exception of U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, the members of Mississippi’s congressional delegation remain in lockstep with Trump.
When asked about Trump’s call for border security funding on Thursday, Thompson, Mississippi’s lone Democrat and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, which oversees federal immigration agencies, painted the wall as an empty gesture.
“Besides what the president’s own terrible policies have created, there is simply NO emergency at the border,” Thompson said in a statement. “A wall is not the solution to the crime and tragedy he describes. A wall will not stop the flow of illegal drugs he talks about, which overwhelmingly come through legal ports of entry. A wall is ineffective and a waste of taxpayer dollars. I see no indication tonight that the president is willing to negotiate in good faith. It is time he realizes the harm caused by his needless shutdown and works with Democrats to reopen the government.”
Mississippi’s congressional Republicans, however, each insisted the wall is a necessary strategy for dealing with unwanted illegal immigration. Mississippi Republicans also repeated Trump’s claims about migrants bringing illegal narcotics over the U.S.-Mexico border although most drugs are seized at legal ports of entry, according to a Trump Administration report.
“The American people are sick and tired of our porous borders and the inability of Washington to get things done. Border security is national security. It’s our job to protect the American people first and foremost, and it seems as though Democrats have forgotten that responsibility. There is absolutely a national emergency at our border,” Rep. Steven Palazzo said in an email to Mississippi Today. “The fact is there has been a rush of illegal immigrants and drugs at our border and it has to be fixed by funding the wall first.”
U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, in a statement to Mississippi Today before Trump’s address, described what he called a “national security and humanitarian crisis at our southern border that must be addressed.”
“All Americans should be concerned about a border that is open to human trafficking and exploitation, deadly illegal drugs, criminals, and terrorists. It is unfortunate the Democrats refuse to work with Republicans on a solution,” Wicker said.
Mississippi’s two newest members of Congress, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and Rep. Michael Guest, said Trump’s wall proposal is reminiscent of moves previous administrations used to secure the southern border.
Lott, however, said that leaders seem focused on winning partisan battles and are missing out on ways to shore up the nation’s immigration policies.
“I really worry about where we are now,” Lott said. “But it’s no use reliving the past or worrying about where you are. What you really need to be doing is figuring out how to get beyond this and turn things around. And I don’t know how many people are thinking about that.”
Correction: An earlier version misstated the date when the partial federal government shutdown began. It was Dec. 22 not Dec. 20.