Fact-checking the Democratic response: A look at the claims of Pelosi and Schumer

Image: Democratic Leadership House Speaker Nancy Pelosi And Sen. Chuck Schu
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) watch a recording of their televised response to President Donald Trump's national address about border security at the Capitol on January 8, 2019. Copyright Chip Somodevilla Getty Images
Copyright Chip Somodevilla Getty Images
By David K. Li with NBC News Politics
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NBC News examined the remarks of Democratic leaders after the president's speech.


The two leading Democrats in Congress, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, gave their party's official response to President Donald Trump's prime-time address on Tuesday night. Here is the NBC News fact-check of their remarks.

Claim 1: Democrats want to re-open government

Pelosi: "On the very first day of this Congress, House Democrats passed Senate Republican legislation to re-open government and fund smart, effective border security solutions."

The facts: House Democrats did pass spending bills to re-open government as their first act upon taking control of the chamber. But the bills were more of a provocation than real legislation; Democrats knew they would not be taken up by the Senate or signed by Trump. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in no uncertain terms that any bill that didn't have obvious support from the White House and Senate majority would not come to his floor for a vote.

"The Senate will not waste its time considering a Democratic bill which cannot pass this chamber and which the president will not sign," McConnell said.

At the same time, Democrats have made it very clear since Trump was elected that they will never support spending money on his border wall, so their action was no surprise to him. They have been willing to spend money on other border security measures.

Claim 2: Immigrants are not a security threat

Pelosi: "The women and children at the border are not a security threat, they are a humanitarian challenge — a challenge that President Trump's own cruel and counterproductive policies have only deepened."

The facts: Nearly 60 percent of immigrants arrested at the border in November were members of "family units" or unaccompanied minors, according to Customs and Border Protection. But that doesn't mean they represented a security threat; only a few had criminal records, and mostly for non-violent offenses.

There have been a handful of potentially violent criminals among the full population trying to cross the border, though a precise gender or age breakdown is not readily available. Overall, CBP encountered 16,831 foreigners with criminal convictions in an 11-month period during fiscal year 2018, and 63 percent of them were encountered at legal ports of entry and barred entry. The other 37 percent, 6,259 people, were arrested by border patrol agents.

But approximately half of those arrested by border patrol agents were convicted of illegal entry or re-entry; 98 were convicted of illegal weapons possession, transport, or trafficking, while 1,062 were convicted of driving under the influence.

Claim 3: Trump said Mexico would pay for the wall, but it has not

Pelosi: "A wall he always promised Mexico would pay for." Schumer: Trump has "failed to get Mexico to pay for his ineffective, unnecessary border wall."

The facts: Mexico has refused to pay for the wall; Trump has said it would do so indirectly through the newly negotiated trade agreement. But there's nothing in the new trade deal that earmarks funds for the border wall; revenue raised by tariffs are federal dollars that must be appropriated by Congress.

What's more, the trade deal must still be ratified by legislators in the three countries and would not take effect until 2020 at the earliest.

Claim 4: The size of the wall

Schumer: "The symbol of America should be the Statue of Liberty, not a 30-foot wall."

The facts: Actually, New York's senior senator was selling President Trump a little short. Candidate Trump, in various stump appearances, talked about building walls as tall as 45, 50, 60 and 65 feet, depending on the speech.

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