Our Fellow Americans:
We speak to you as our government has entered its second month in partial shutdown.
That is partly by the design of our Constitution: Under our “checks and balances,” we in Congress have the “power of the purse,” but the president has the power to veto appropriations that Congress passes and sends to him.
When the president will not sign, but vetoes, what we in Congress send him – unless Congress has sufficient votes in both houses to override a presidential veto, which we do not – there is stalemate, deadlock. Without the legal appropriation of funds to operate the government – appropriated by the Congress and signed by the president – the government cannot continue. It shuts down.
Usually, that brings compromise. Compromise requires, of course, both sides giving something they don’t want to give, in order to get something they want.
- We still fundamentally, resolutely disagree with the president over a “Wall” – even if he calls it a “barrier” or “fence” – across our peaceful border with Mexico.
- We believe that the President’s wall is a waste of money, even though it is a small fraction of the total government budget, it is still a waste.
- It will not be effective against illegal immigration. Most illegal immigration flows not through the Mexican border, but through immigrants over-staying their visas. Illegal drugs, which are indeed a scourge, enter our country through other points of entry.
And mainly, we oppose the president’s wall because it casts a cloud over America which looks more like the shadow of the Iron Curtain through Berlin, than the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor.
We consider it a profound mistake.
And, yet, the Constitution has given us divided government, the president is the president, and this continuing government shutdown is imposing severe costs and unfair burdens. It has prevented our government from performing important functions, providing important services, and has called upon many thousands of federal government employees to go without work, or go without pay. The businesses that depend on them are left without customers. The entire economy is bearing the brunt of the president's intransigence.
We can find, nonetheless, considerable consolation in the package of legislation the president recently proposed. Hundreds of thousands of “Dreamers” – children brought illegally to America by their parents, through no fault of their own, and who have largely integrated into America as the only country they know – will get a three-year reprieve from the threat of deportation. They deserve more. They deserve a path to become full-fledged American citizens. But we will get for them at least three years' reprieve, and will continue to press their cause.
The president’s package also provides relief from deportation for about 300,000 refugees from civil war or natural disasters in their home countries, under the Temporary Protected Status program.
It matters greatly to all those people to have the relief we can get for them -- even though less than they deserve.
And it also contains $800 million for humanitarian aid, and $805 million for advanced drug detection technology, and 2750 additional border agents, and 75 immigration judge teams to facilitate the admission of those deserving asylum, which are more sensible responses to the problem.
Accordingly, reluctantly, we will pass an appropriation bill containing these provisions – which are a more effective response to illegal immigration and drugs than the president’s wall – but will also include the money he stubbornly demands for his border wall.
To be sure, this is a hard compromise for us. Today’s stalemate in Washington, in truth, reflects the sharp and deep divisions in our country. The country has elected a president and a majority of the Senate of one party, and a majority in the House of Representatives of the other, and the parties' visions for the country are far apart.
The Constitution gives the people the next opportunity to realign their government in 2020, when we will elect a president, the entire House and one-third of the Senate – as we have done, successfully, resiliently, for 225 years.
We will vigorously speak out on these issues in those election campaigns. We will fight hard in the next elections, to bring America back on course, but that’s two years from now.
Some may say we “blinked” first. That the president “won.” We’re not playing that petty game.
For now, and for the next two years, the government, divided as it is, must be permitted to function, and to serve all Americans. To the best of our ability, with the powers the Constitution entrusts to us, we will see that it does.
Thank you and good night.