To: Congressional Republicans
From: The White House
Re: Talking points on the shutdown
Over the past two weeks, we’ve noticed that many of you are having trouble articulating where our party stands in the present impasse. You seem confused about whether we support or oppose the shutdown, what we’re waiting for, and what we’re trying to accomplish. We encourage you, as always, to follow the president’s lead. Here are the points he has emphasized since Dec. 11, when he met with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in front of TV cameras.
1. The president opposes the shutdown. During the Dec. 11 meeting, he made his position clear: “I’d like not to see a government closing, a shutdown.” On Dec. 13, he repeated, “Let’s not do a shutdown, Democrats.” To prove his sincerity, the president stayed in the White House over Christmas. On Wednesday, he pleaded, “Both parties must work together to pass a Funding Bill that protects this Nation and its people—this is the first and most important duty of government.”
2. Democrats forced the shutdown. During the Dec. 11 meeting, the president warned against a “Pelosi shutdown.” On Dec. 21, he said it would be a “Democrat shutdown.” After Republicans voted to fund a border wall, he announced, “The Democrats now own the shutdown!” On Sunday, he called it the “#SchumerShutdown.”
3. Democrats feared the shutdown. On Dec. 11, the president told Schumer, “You don’t want to shut down the government, Chuck. Because the last time you shut it down, you got killed.” Later, as the cameras continued to record him, the president repeated this message. This is a complex point that must be carefully explained in all media opportunities: Although congressional Democrats will stop at nothing to force a shutdown, they are also cowards who dread another government closure.
4. The president forced the shutdown. “If we don’t get what we want,” he told Schumer on Dec. 11, “I will shut down the government. … I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it. … I will take the mantle of shutting down.” On Wednesday, at a televised Cabinet meeting, the vice president praised the president for taking “a strong stand to shut down the government until we secure the funding to build a wall.” The president responded, “That’s right, Mike. Thank you very much. It’s true.” The shutdown is regrettable and took the president by surprise. However, he is a strong leader who takes responsibility for making the decision to close the government.
5. The president saw the shutdown as a leverage opportunity. On Dec. 21, just before the government closed, the president declared that Republicans were “totally prepared for a very long shutdown. And this is our only chance that we’ll ever have … to get great border security.” On Saturday, he explained that he had tried at other times to get Senate Democrats to support his border-security agenda, but “now we have to do it the hard way, with a Shutdown.” So although the president regrets that Democrats caused the shutdown, he has been planning for some time to force this confrontation and exploit it.
6. The president will decide when to end the shutdown. On Dec. 25, he stipulated that “until we have a wall … we’re just not opening.” At the Wednesday Cabinet meeting, a reporter asked about the $5 billion we have requested for the wall: “How long are you willing to keep the government shut down, then, in order to get that $5.6 billion?” The president replied, “As long as it takes.” So let’s be clear: The president is firmly in control. It is the Democrats, however, who went on vacation and are responsible for dragging out the shutdown.
7. The shutdown is just one of many threats the president plans to use. On Dec. 20, he warned Democrats, “I will not sign any of their legislation, including infrastructure, unless it has perfect Border Security.” On Dec. 28, he also threatened to “close the Southern Border entirely if the Obstructionist Democrats do not give us the money to finish the Wall.” So the shutdown was destructive and unnecessary, and the president wants to get back to work. But in case his demands aren’t met, he has identified other legislation and business he can disrupt.
8. The people hurt by the shutdown are Democrats. On Dec. 27, the president asked, “Do the Dems realize that most of the people not getting paid are Democrats?” His point was clear: Pelosi and Schumer should fund the wall because otherwise their furloughed supporters will continue to suffer. Remember to remind the public, however, that the president loves all Americans regardless of party, cares about the furloughed workers, and in no way staged the shutdown with the intent to use them as expendable hostages.
9. The wall is being built anyway. “Tremendous amounts of wall have already been built,” the president observed on Dec. 11. “And we will continue that.” On Dec. 25, he added, “So while we’re fighting over funding, we’re also building.” In remarks during the shutdown, he has repeatedly described hundreds of miles of wall construction that are underway regardless of the current budget dispute. This does not, however, support the argument by Pelosi and Schumer that closing the government to fund the wall was unnecessary.
10. The wall has already secured the border. As the president pointed out on Dec. 11, “Despite the large Caravans that WERE forming and heading to our Country, people have not been able to get through our newly built Walls, makeshift Walls & Fences. … Our Southern Border is now Secure and will remain that way.” By reinforcing this message, you can reassure Americans who might be alarmed by recent suggestions that the government had to be shut down because the border was not secure.
11. Mexico is paying for the wall. On Dec. 13, the president tweeted, “I often stated, ‘One way or the other, Mexico is going to pay for the Wall.’ This has never changed.” On Dec. 19, he explained the revenue stream: “Mexico is paying (indirectly) for the Wall through the new USMCA, the replacement for NAFTA!” On Monday and Wednesday, he again emphasized, “Mexico is paying for the Wall.” This assurance should comfort anyone who worries that without the U.S. government funds we are demanding, the wall won’t be built.
12. The military will build the wall. Although the wall has been built and paid for by Mexico, and although we urgently need new U.S. government funds to complete it, the president has arranged to finish it using current military resources. “If the Democrats do not give us the votes to secure our Country, the Military will build the remaining sections of the Wall,” he announced on Dec. 11. On Dec. 19, he repeated that “the United States Military will build the Wall!” On Wednesday, he thanked the armed forces for working “really hard over the last, actually, four or five weeks” to facilitate wall construction covering “a tremendous amount of miles.”
This, in sum, is our message to the public: The border is secure. The wall has been funded and is well underway. The military, with existing resources, is building it. Mexico is paying for it. Everything was going well until Democrats, traumatized by the last shutdown, decided to stage another one. The president tried to avert this crisis, but he is a strong leader. He knows that our border is being overrun and must be sealed. That’s why he has prepared for months to close the government in order to force Congress to pay for the wall. It’s up to Democrats to end the shutdown. But the president won’t reopen the government till his demands are met.
We hope these talking points are helpful as you plan for your public remarks and media opportunities. Follow the president, and Americans will always know where you stand.
Support our independent journalism
Readers like you make our work possible. Help us continue to provide the reporting, commentary, and criticism you won’t find anywhere else.Join Slate Plus