WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump urged congressional Democrats to fund his long-promised border wall Tuesday night in a somber televised address that was heavy with dark immigration rhetoric but offered little in the way of concessions or new ideas to break the standoff that has left large swaths of the government shuttered for 18 days.
Speaking to the nation from the Oval Office for the first time, Trump argued the wall was needed to resolve a security and humanitarian “crisis,” blaming illegal immigration for what he said was a scourge of drugs and violence in the U.S. and asking: “How much more American blood must we shed before Congress does its job?”
Democrats in response accused Trump appealing to “fear, not facts” and manufacturing a border crisis for political gain.
Using the formal trappings of the White House, Trump hoped to gain the upper hand in the standoff over his demand for $5.7 billion to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. He plans a visit to the border Thursday as he continues to pitch what was a signature promise of his 2016 presidential campaign.
He addressed the nation as the shutdown stretched through its third week, with hundreds of thousands of federal workers going without pay and some congressional Republicans growing increasingly jittery about the spreading impact of the impasse. Trump will visit the Capitol on Wednesday to meet with Senate Republicans, and has invited Democratic and Republican congressional leaders to return to the White House to meet with him later that day.
He claimed the standoff could be resolved in “45 minutes” if Democrats would just negotiate, but previous meetings have led to no agreement.
For now, Trump sees this as winning politics. TV networks had been reticent about providing him airtime to make what some feared would be a purely political speech. And that concern was heightened by the decision Tuesday by Trump’s re-election campaign to send out fundraising emails and text messages to supporters trying to raise money off the speech. Their goal: A half-million dollars in a single day.
“I just addressed the nation on Border Security. Now need you to stand with me,” read one message sent out after his remarks.
In their own televised remarks, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer accused Trump of misrepresenting the situation on the border as they urged him to reopen closed government departments and turn loose paychecks for hundreds of thousands of workers.
Negotiations on wall funding could proceed in the meantime, they said.
Schumer said Trump “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 dire address, Trump ticked off a string of statistics and claims to make his case that there is a crisis at the border, but a number of his statements were misleading, such as saying the new trade deal with Mexico would pay for the wall, or suggesting through gruesome examples that immigrants are more likely to commit crime.
Trump, who has long railed against illegal immigration at the border, has recently seized on humanitarian concerns to argue there is a broader crisis that can only be solved with a wall. But critics say the security risks are overblown and the administration is at least partly to blame for the humanitarian situation.
Trump used emotional language, referring to Americans who were killed by people in the country illegally, saying: “I’ve met with dozens of families whose loved ones were stolen by illegal immigration. I’ve held the hands of the weeping mothers and embraced the grief-stricken fathers. So sad. So terrible.”
The president often highlights such incidents, though studies over several years have found immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than people born in the United States.
Trump has been discussing the idea of declaring a national emergency to allow him to move forward with the wall without getting congressional approval for the billions he’s requested. But he did not mention that Tuesday night.
The partial government shutdown reached its 18th day, making the closure the second-longest in history. Hundreds of thousands of federal workers are going without pay, and government disruptions are hitting home with everyday Americans.
Trump was nearly halfway through his 9-minute address before he ever mentioned the border wall, describing it as a request from law enforcement rather than his own longstanding political pledge. He also suggested that his proposal to build the wall from steel, rather than concrete, was a concession to Democrats, although they don’t see it that way.
Trump sought to put the blame on Democrats for the standoff, saying they “will not fund border security.” In fact, House Democrats passed legislation the day they took control of the House that offered $1.3 billion for border security. And Senate Democrats have approved similar funding year after year.
Seeking to keep up pressure on Trump and the Republicans, Pelosi said the House would begin passing individual bills this week to reopen some federal agencies, starting with the Treasury Department to ensure Americans receive their tax refunds. The administration says it will act on its own to ensure the refunds.
Ahead of the speech, the White House sought to shore up GOP support on Capitol Hill, where a growing number of Republicans have been expressing unease with the extended shutdown. But GOP lawmakers were still raising concerns Tuesday, talking about disruptions in payments to farmers and troubles for home buyers trying to get government-backed mortgage loans. Vice President Mike Pence met privately with House Republicans, urging them to “stand strong” and insisting the White House wants to negotiate, according to people familiar with the conversation.
He also told the group that Trump won’t retreat. “That pickup ain’t got reverse in it,” he said.
Robinson City Council members gave an unofficial nod Monday to the idea of a three-story, 100-unit affordable senior housing complex off Old Robinson Road.
National Church Residences, an Ohio-based nonprofit provider of affordable senior housing and services, presented a proposal to the Robinson City Council on Monday to develop a 17-acre site near 510 N. Old Robinson Road with a total investment estimated at $11 million to $13 million.
The minimum age for residents would be 55, and the facility would primarily cater to low-income seniors living on a fixed income, said Tracey Fine, a senior project leader for National Church Residences who presented the plan.
“Our typical resident is a 79-year-old female who is a widower, living on a $13,000 annual income on the lower end of the spectrum,” Fine said. “We’ve been in Texas for nearly 30 years are really committed to our properties long term and are looking to expand our portfolio in acquiring other senior affordable housing communities to help preserve affordability in those as well.”
Fine asked city council members to approve a resolution in support of the nonprofit’s application to the 2019 Competitive Housing Tax Credit Program through the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs. If successful, the program would cover about 70 percent of the building cost with low-income housing tax credits.
After listening to the presentation, council members said they would support the project and waive a $500 permit fee, but made no formal commitment to the project.
Mayor Bert Echterling and council members James Eubank and Brenton Lane did not attend Monday night’s meeting.
Fine said about 18 percent of the state’s population is expected to be 65 or older by 2030.
“Not only is the population of aging seniors growing, natural caretakers are declining, plus everyone’s savings are not situated for long-term living,” Fine said. “People are living longer thanks to medical improvements, but we are definitely facing an affordable housing crisis for our senior population.”
About 90 percent of the proposed complex’s units would have income restrictions. The rest would have no restrictions. Fine said the building and property would be owned by the nonprofit for at least 35 years and will likely generate $827,000 in taxes for the city of Robinson in the first year and about $441,000 annually thereafter.
National Church Residences is the owner and operator of Brook Oaks Senior Residences at 1725 Colcord Ave., in Waco. Although the funding for Brook Oaks came through a different affordable housing program, Councilman Jimmy Rogers said the Brook Oaks property is a center point of the North Waco community.
“It is probably the best looking building over there in several blocks,” he said. “It is a really good looking building.”
The project remains in its early stages, and the conceptual site plan may change, said Justin French, Robinson’s director of planning and development. National Church Residences submitted a request to rezone the property on behalf of the property’s current owner, and public hearings will be held at 6 p.m. Jan. 17 and Feb. 5 at Robinson City Hall.
ABOVE: Water rushes out from the spillway of the Lake Waco Dam as Wayne Mickeal fishes, taking advantage of a sunny recess from last week’s rains, which drove the lake level up. The level stood at 471.5 feet above sea level Tuesday, or 9.5 feet higher than normal. LEFT: Justin Lucero enjoys the blue sky and warm temperatures while throwing from the front nine at the disc golf course at Brazos Park East. Lucero and other will be among 180 expected players at Sunday’s Straddle the Brazos. The National Weather Service forecast for later in the week calls for a return of cool, rainy weather, with an 80 percent chance of showers and a high on Friday of 54 degrees.
Staff photos — Jerry Larson and Rod Aydelotte
Attorneys for former Baylor University fraternity president Jacob Anderson sought a settlement with his victim in exchange for her dropping the sexual assault charges against him, the woman’s attorney told a judge Tuesday.
Waco attorney Jim Dunnam, who represents the former Baylor student who alleges Anderson sexually assaulted her at an off-campus Phi Delta Theta fraternity party in 2016, told 414th State District Judge Vicki Menard about the offer during a pretrial hearing in the woman’s civil suit.
Anderson accepted a plea agreement from the McLennan County District Attorney’s Office that placed him on deferred probation for three years after his no contest plea to a lesser charge of unlawful restraint. As part of the plea agreement, prosecutors dropped the four counts of sexual assault, and Anderson will not have to register as a sex offender or serve jail time.
Menard set Tuesday’s hearing after Dunnam filed a motion to postpone a Jan. 17 court date Dallas attorney Dennis Conder scheduled in his efforts to get his client, former Baylor student Colin Ruska, dismissed from the lawsuit.
The woman’s lawsuit names as defendants Anderson, 20 former or current fraternity members, the local chapter and national office of Phi Delta Theta and the elderly owner of the South Third Street residence known around Baylor as the “Phi Delt Ranch.”
The suit alleges the woman was sexually assaulted at the party, that fraternity members served alcohol to underage students and created an unsafe and unlawful atmosphere.
Dunnam told Menard that he and the attorneys for the fraternity defendants agreed to allow the criminal case against Anderson to be resolved before proceeding with the civil case. He accused Conder of trying to interfere in the criminal case by filing his motion for summary judgment three days before 19th State District Judge Ralph Strother announced, over the victim’s protests, that he would accept Anderson’s plea agreement.
Dunnam also said Conder set the hearing on the summary judgment motion without consulting with him, telling Menard he has conflicting court dates on that day.
Dunnam asked Menard to postpone the hearing on the motion for summary judgment, saying it would be unfair to hear the motion without allowing Dunnam first to proceed with the discovery process. Menard granted Dunnam’s motion and instructed the attorneys to continue working through discovery issues.
“This young woman has been trying to get to court for three years, your honor,” Dunnam said. “That is done. I have no comment on those proceedings. She should not be denied her day in court. That’s all she wants. This is just gamesmanship to deny us basic discovery. We should not be faulted for not interfering with the criminal proceedings.
“I got a call this summer from the defense lawyers for Mr. Anderson wanting to come meet with me and talk about his parents paying my client money to drop the criminal proceedings. That’s interfering. I said no. I am not going to meet with them and discuss by implication paying her money in exchange for her trying to drop the charges. This has been about staying out of the criminal proceedings.”
Fort Worth attorney Tim Moore, who represented Anderson in the criminal case with Mark Daniel, said Tuesday that Dunnam is blowing the situation out of proportion. He said no such offer would have been made without the involvement and cooperation of the district attorney’s office.
“I recall one very brief phone conversation with Mr. Dunnam,” Moore said. “I recall asking him about possible restitution, if any. Nothing substantive was discussed and there were most certainly no offers made. There were no further conversations.”
Dunnam declined to elaborate on the conversation after the hearing. Moore also declined additional comment.
Conder argued that the summary judgment motion should proceed because he said his client was a senior at Baylor and was in Austin when the party was held. He said he had nothing to do with planning it and knew nothing about the sexual assault allegations until he read about them in the Tribune-Herald.
Conder said if Ruska was even still an officer at the time, he was acting as “scholarship chairman” and tried to make sure fraternity members kept their grades up.
Conder told the judge it was not fair to “hold my client hostage” by keeping him in the lawsuit two years after he graduated from Baylor simply because Dunnam took a “shotgun approach” to naming defendants before finding out if they were even at the party or had anything to do with it.
Dunnam said he is pleased with the judge’s ruling to delay the summary judgement hearing.
“It is essential that this young woman be given the opportunity to have her full day in court, and I think this is a positive step for that so we can get the facts out and proceed so we can get justice in the civil proceeding,” Dunnam said.
Baylor suspended the fraternity after the allegations surfaced, and it remains suspended, Baylor spokeswoman Lori Fogleman said. Baylor did not allow the fraternity to return in the spring, and it will be eligible for reinstatement in spring 2020, she said.
While Bellmead’s city manager is preparing to transition to the same role in Hewitt, a move the Bellmead City Council announced Tuesday could bring Hewitt’s former city manager, or Woodway’s, to fill the interim role in Bellmead.
The council will reconvene Jan. 16 to interview former Woodway City Manager Yost Zakhary and former Hewitt City Manager Adam Miles, Bellmead Mayor William B. Ridings said Tuesday.
Miles is being replaced in Hewitt by Bellmead’s current city manager, Bo Thomas, whose last day in Bellmead is Jan. 17.
Zakhary resigned in April after 39 years with the city of Woodway. His resignation came after the city conducted an internal investigation into an employee’s complaints that Zakhary sexually harassed her and fostered a hostile work environment. The city settled a sexual harassment lawsuit with the woman in July for $50,000.
At the time of his exit as Hewitt’s city manager Nov. 5, which came with an $88,000 settlement, Miles had pending complaints against city council members. Starting in May, the city of Hewitt investigated a series of city employees’ complaints against council members, which has resulted in investigations by the Texas Workforce Commission and Texas Rangers. Miles wrote a letter to the council in July stating Mayor Ed Passalugo wanted to fire him. In the letter, Miles alleged Passalugo committed an Open Meetings Act violation, potentially a Class C misdemeanor.
The Hewitt City Council voted 5-1 on Dec. 17 to hire Thomas away from Bellmead as city manager. Hewitt Mayor Pro Tem Steve Fortenberry cast the dissenting vote and said at the time he wanted more time to review the 10-page city manager agreement that was presented for the first time at the meeting.
Fortenberry also cast the sole vote Dec. 4 against starting contract negotiations with Thomas. He said at the time he wanted an opportunity to interview more than one candidate.
Thomas will start Jan. 28 in Hewitt with a $153,000 salary. His total compensation including benefits will exceed Miles’ by $2,000, Hewitt City Attorney Mike Dixon has said.
During the Bellmead meeting Tuesday, the city council approved a proclamation recognizing Jan. 17, 2019 as Everett “Bo” Thomas Day.
Thomas said it has been an honor and privilege to serve the city. He said he told the staff Tuesday that the measure of his success is not what he accomplished while working for the city but how the staff continues operating once he is gone.
“I think they’ll do a fine job and I think the citizens of Bellmead are in good hands,” Thomas said during the council meeting.
In other action Tuesday, the city council: