With a few hours to go before Donald Trump’s nationwide address on border security and the shutdown, the White House has sent Mike Pence out to shape the battlefield. Pence is in the midst of a midweek full-Ginsburg, appearing on nearly every national news television platform to push for the border wall. He’s not getting an easy time of it either, as in this interview with ABC’s Jon Karl. “How can his word be trusted on this,” Karl asks the Vice President, “when he has said so many things that are not true about this crisis?”
Pence responds that the American people know already that this is a “bona-fide emergency,” and that they’re more interested in solutions than scoring the debate:
— ABC News (@ABC) January 8, 2019
“The American people deserve to know that the situation on our southern border has become as ‘The Washington Post’ said a ‘bona fide emergency,'” Pence told ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl.
“Sixty-thousand people a month and for the first time on record, the vast majority of those are families, unaccompanied children and it simply is overwhelming the ability of our border patrol and customs agents to be able to address it,” Pence said. “We need new resources. We need to build a wall. We need the Congress to come to the table and work with this president to address this crisis once and for all.”
Pence was a bit coy with Karl about the idea of declaring a national emergency to shift funds to a border wall. He was a little less coy on NBC’s Today, where he told Hallie Jackson that Trump will do it if he has no other choice:
It’s something that he’s looking at and considering. … What I expect the president will do tonight is explain to the American people that we have a humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border. 60,000 people are now attempting to come into our country illegally every month. That’s more than 2,000 a day…the vast majority of those people now are families and unaccompanied children, and it simply is overwhelming the ability of our customs and border patrol to address it.
He’ll talk about the 17,000 people with criminal records that we’ve apprehended at our border. He’ll explain the need not just to build a wall, which he’s determined to do, but also to provide our border patrol with additional resources, humanitarian and medical assistance, new technology, but the Democrats need to come to the table and start negotiating.
Jackson also noted Trump’s inaccurate or unverified claims, but only lightly challenged Pence directly. She added it to the end of the report:
So to clarify here, a national emergency is something that constitutes a threat to the health and safety of Americans. It is not clear if the President will declare one tonight. In that interview, the Vice President repeated that claim that has been debunked as misleading about the number of suspected terrorists or immigrants coming across the southern border, but he did make clear the President is feeling resolved in his stance. Democrats are, too, which means that unless somebody starts to give in, this shutdown could stretch even longer than it’s already gone on.
Pence danced around the emergency-order question on CBS as well, but Major Garrett asked an interesting question. Why not fund the rest of the agencies not involved in border security and keep Homeland Security shut down by itself until the standoff is resolved? Blame the Democrats, Pence says:
"Why can't the rest of the government, unaffected by @DHSgov funding, be funded and then deal with this issue separately? Why must there be a partial shutdown affecting all these agencies that have nothing to do with this underlying debate?" — @MajorCBS @VP Pence responds: pic.twitter.com/X9MmYPoZRy
— CBS This Morning (@CBSThisMorning) January 8, 2019
So far, Pence hasn’t shown up on CNN or on the President’s favorite morning show, so it’s not quite the full Ginsburg. The strategy seems pretty sound even so — send Pence off to the tough reporters to make the most reasoned and media-friendly argument possible in the morning, while Trump talks over their heads in the evening. Pence is a master at handling these interviews and maintaining an even strain, which he demonstrated with ABC’s Karl especially. In Star Trek terms, Pence gets to be Spock in the morning and Trump gets to be Kirk tonight.
Will that one-two punch make a difference in the trajectory of the debate? It’s tough to say at this point, but it’s probably not going to move Democrats off their position without some significant polling shifts.