Pence calls border 'bona fide emergency,' dodges questions about Trump falsehoods

Pence is making the case ahead of Trump's address to the nation Tuesday night.

January 8, 2019, 8:16 AM

Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday said that President Trump will use his first prime-time Oval Office address to detail what he described as "a real humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border."

But when pressed by ABC News on the multiple falsehoods recently spread by the president about the immigration debate in recent days, the vice president argued that it shouldn't undermine the administration's credibility in the eyes of the American public.

"Look, the American people aren't as concerned about the political debate as they are about what's really happening at the border," Pence told ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl in an interview for "Good Morning America."

Eighteen days into the partial government shutdown, Trump and other administration officials have made several false claims as they have sought to pressure Democrats to agree for billions in funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

On Friday, Trump falsely claimed that he has been contacted by "some" of the four living former presidents who told him they wished they'd built a border wall. Spokespersons for all four have since denied such communication ever occurred.

The White House has also claimed that in 2018 "nearly 4,000" suspected terrorists tried to cross into the U.S. through the southern border. But that claim has since been debunked citing figures straight from the administration. The Department of Homeland Security has since sought to clarify that DHS has instead "encountered more than 3,000 Special Interest Aliens" trying to enter via the southern border, which it described as "individuals with suspicious travel patterns who may pose a national security threat."

"The passion you hear from President Trump is determination to take this case to the American people as he will tonight in his national broadcast from the Oval Office -- comes from the president's deep desire to protect the American people," Pence said when pressed on the falsehoods.

Pence did not say whether the president would declare a "national emergency" over border security, which he has said he has the authority to do if no agreement is reached with Democrats.

Trump has told congressional leaders that the government shutdown could go on for months -- even a year or longer -- if Congress doesn't approve funding for a border wall.

"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 said.

The Washington Post article Pence is referring to called the influx of migrant families -- and the difficulty Customs and Border Protection had dealing with the situation - "a bona fide emergency."

"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 argued Democrats' refusal to compromise shows they are ignoring the border situation, but in an interview on ABC's "Good Morning America," Sen. Kamala Harris disputed that claim.

"It's just simply not true," Sen. Harris, D-Calif., said. "There was a bipartisan effort out of the United States Senate and the United States Congress to pass funding of the government and the president is holding it up because of his vanity project, which is this wall at taxpayers' expense and at the expense of hundreds of thousands of workers who are working every day without being paid. So it's just simply not true. It's an emergency of his own creation."

Harris said if Trump declares a national emergency, Democrats would likely mount an immediate legal challenge.

"I think that there's no question that we will litigate and there will be litigation," Harris said. "Those other branches of government and the courts and the press will put checks on this outrageous conduct of this administration. If he declares an emergency, I think that we will see again the checks and balances kick in particular through the courts."

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