Before President Donald Trump's televised Oval Office address – in which he stoked racial resentment of immigrants, using fear as a motivator to rally support for the construction of his $5.7 billion "wall" along the U.S.-Mexico border – the commander-in-chief confessed in private to a group of news personalities that his upcoming speech and planned trip to the Southern border would be pointless.
"It's not going to change a damn thing, but I'm still doing it," Trump said, according to the New York Times. Two unnamed sources cited by the Times claimed the president acknowledged, in an off-the-record lunch with television anchors before the broadcast, that he did not want to deliver the address or travel to Texas; rather, he had been talked into it by advisers. The president also allegedly conceded that his planned visit to the border was merely a photo opportunity.
"But these people behind you say it's worth it," Trump was quoted as saying, gesturing at his communications aides: Bill Shine, Sarah Sanders and Kellyanne Conway.
Trump's upcoming trip to the border was announced earlier this week, more than two weeks into a partial government shutdown prompted by him as a means to secure funding for his chief campaign promise. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Trump would be traveling to the border to "meet with those on the frontlines of the national-security and humanitarian crisis."
During his televised address, Trump urged congressional Democrats to give in and allocate billions of dollars in funds for the border wall, which he repeatedly promised Mexico would pay for on the 2016 campaign trail, to reopen the partially-shuttered federal government. Portraying immigrants as violent criminals, the president argued that the wall was necessary in order to resolve a "humanitarian and national security crisis on our southern border." "How much more American blood must we shed before Congress does its job?" Trump asked.
Trump and congressional Democrats continue to spar over funds to build a wall along the southern border, with Trump threatening to declare a national emergency to fund the wall if Democrats do not budge. The shutdown, which began shortly before Christmas, appears to have no end in sight. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of federal workers continue to go without pay.
"We have a national crisis at our border," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said last week. "We also have a humanitarian crisis at our border, and the president is not going to back off."
"The president has been willing to negotiate from the beginning, but he's not going to put our national security and the safety of American people at risk," Sanders continued. "The president is not backing down from that."
Trump, for his part, admitted the reason the federal government remains only partially operational is because of his ego, confessing that he would "look foolish" if he allowed the government to reopen while wall funding was being negotiated, as hundreds of thousands of federal workers continue to work without a paycheck. Trump has not spent the majority of the shutdown negotiating an end game, instead blaming Democrats for a shutdown he previously said he was proud to own.
"I am proud to shut down the government for border security . . . I will be the one to shut [the government] down," Trump famously said last month. "I'm not going to blame you for it."
He also alleged that the thousands of workers either furloughed or working without pay "are Democrats" — just days after he claimed that "many" of those government employees told him they were fine with not getting paid if Congress does not fund his long-promised wall. Both claims were offered without supporting evidence.