US President Donald Trump has made his first TV address to the nation from the Oval Office, escalating a stand-off with Congress that has led to an 18-day partial government shutdown. Mr Trump insisted on funding for his long-promised US-Mexico border wall. However, he did not declare an emergency that would enable him to bypass the lower house of Congress now controlled by the opposition Democrats. Democratic leaders accused him of holding the American people hostage. The Republican president wants $5.7bn (£4.5bn) to build a steel barrier, which would deliver on his signature campaign pledge. But Democrats who recently took control of the House of Representatives are adamantly opposed to giving him the funds. The ongoing closure of a quarter of federal agencies is the second-longest in history, leaving hundreds of thousands of government workers unpaid.
In an eight-minute address on Tuesday night carried live by all the major US television networks, Mr Trump said the federal government remained shut because of the Democrats. He said of the situation at the border: “This is a humanitarian crisis, a crisis of the heart and a crisis of the soul.” Mr Trump said an as-yet-unratified revamp of the North American Free Trade Agreement would pay for the wall, a claim previously disputed by economists. The president also said that 90% of heroin sold in the US came from Mexico, though US government figures make clear all but a small percentage is smuggled through legal points of entry. Mr Trump correctly pointed out that Democrats have in the past supported a physical barrier. In 2006, senators Chuck Schumer, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden voted in favour of 700 miles (1,120km) of fencing on the nearly 2,000-mile border under the Secure Fence Act.
Mr Trump cited cases of American citizens “savagely murdered in cold blood” by undocumented immigrants. “How much more American blood will be shed before Congress does its job?” he asked. On Wednesday, he will seek to stiffen the resolve of fellow Republicans on Capitol Hill before hosting congressional leaders for talks at the White House. Mr Trump heads to the south-western border on Thursday. In a brief rebuttal, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer demanded that Mr Trump end the shutdown. Mrs Pelosi said: “The fact is the women and children at the border are not a security threat, they are a humanitarian challenge.” The California congresswoman added: “And the fact is President Trump must stop holding the American people hostage, must stop manufacturing a crisis, and must reopen the government.”