Donald Trump defends government shutdown to convention of hard-hit farmers

Facing people who have felt the full force of the partial government shutdown, President Donald Trump told a farmers convention Monday that he is insisting on a border wall because of a “humanitarian crisis” at the border.

“We can stop it, but we can’t stop it if we’re going to play politics,” Trump said in New Orleans at the convention of the American Farm Bureau Federation, some members of which have had trouble getting loans since the shutdown began 24 days ago.

Telling the farmers “we’re going to have a wall, we’re going to have a barrier,” Trump spent more time talking about border security than about the fallout from the shutdown that has hit farmers especially hard.

One part of the government basically shuttered for more than three weeks – the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

More than 25 minutes into his speech, Trump finally said that “the USDA is doing everything in its power to help the farmers” deal with the shutdown.

Calling himself “a great friend of the farmer,” Trump also asked Farm Bureau members to lobby Democratic members of Congress to end the shutdown by backing his plans for a border wall.

Throughout the shutdown, farmers have complained that loan applications have not been processed, and crop payments have been suspended. 

In calling on the federal government to reopen, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture said farmers are unable to access any number of assistance programs, including ones authorized by the recently signed farm bill.

“Without them, the financial stress and challenges farmers are facing will keep accumulating,” said a statement from NASDA President Jeff Witte, the New Mexico secretary of agriculture.

The National Farmers Union tweeted last week that “shutdown stories are pouring into” their Farm Aid hotline: “The cotton farmer who couldn’t get disaster assistance to recover from a hurricane. The woman in her 90s facing foreclosure on her family farm. The dairy farmer trying to renegotiate her FSA loan.”

Farmers have also criticized Trump’s trade policies, saying his tariffs and looming trade wars with China and other countries have increased the prices for soybeans and other agricultural products.

In his rambling speech to the Farm Bureau, Trump outlined his entire economic agenda, putting special emphasis on the trade agenda that has been criticized by farmers.

Trump complained about the trade tactics of the European Union as well as China. And he said he is making new deals to remove trade barriers from other countries like Canada. “We are doing trade deals that are going to get you so much business,” Trump said.

Trump said he wants “a fair deal for America’s farmers,” pointing to a new trade agreement with Mexico and Canada.

Trump said the new. U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement – which hasn’t yet been ratified by the Senate – would benefit farmers by allowing them to export more of their products. He urged lawmakers to approve the new trade pact “quite quickly.”

Later in the speech, Trump boasted about the the $867 billion farm bill he signed into law last month and singled out its provisions for crop insurance. He also promised farmers who depend on migrant labor that he would make it easier for those workers to enter the country. “It’s going to be easier for them to get in than what they have to go through now,” he said, offering no details.

Trump wrapped up his speech by paying homage to farmers, saying they built the country and “have always led the way.”

“We are fighting for the American farmer,” he said, promising that “the greatest harvest is yet to come.”

Before leaving the White House, Trump tweeted that he was looking forward to convention in Nashville, saying, “Love our farmers, love Tennessee – a great combination!”

The only problem: The convention was in New Orleans; Trump had to delete the message.

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