President Trump harnessed his address to the American Farm Bureau Federation's 100th Annual Convention in New Orleans Monday to push his immigration agenda, as the ongoing partial government shutdown over the border wall debate hampers farm operations across the country.
"I like the farmers. What can I do? I like farmers," Mr. Trump said in his opening remarks.
In his speech, the president blasted America's current immigration laws, calling them "sick" and "demented," and emphasized they must change. The president is demanding $5.7 billion for his border wall.
"The people that are sent to our country are not the people that we want," Mr. Trump said. "They come in through the lottery, they come in through chain migration."
But even as he blasted illegal immigrants and illegal immigration, Mr. Trump told the crowd he would make it "easier" for migrants to come into the country to tend their farms, a line that elicited applause.
"I'm going to make that easier for them to come in and to work the farm," the president said.
The partial government shutdown, now the longest on record, has suspended some federal aid for farmers — including subsidies for farmers hit by the president's tariffs. The shutdown also means farmers don't have information the U.S. Department of Agriculture usually provides to allow them to plan ahead, like suggestions for the quantity of crops they should plant.
Mr. Trump didn't address the impact the shutdown is having on farmers. But he did address the trade deals he says he is negotiating on their behalf, and praised farmers for their work ethic and character.
But many farmers have been hit by the shutdown, which has shuttered a number of key operations at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Iowa farmer Aaron Lehman told CBS News the shutdown has put him in a bind, after he's already watched the price of his soybeans drop 20 percent since last summer when the Trump administration entered a. For Lehman, it's like a one-two punch.
"We rely on our USDA folks," he told CBS News correspondent Dean Reynolds.
Agriculture Secretary Sunny Perdue acknowledged that farmers are hurt by the shutdown — and said it needs to end soon.
"Well, the impact for farmers typically has been the farm service agencies have run out of funding and they're closed," Perdue said on Fox News Monday morning. "We're working with OMB to see if we can get some relief in that area so we can – farmers have sometimes dual issued checks they need to get co-endorsed out there to retrieve their marketing loans for peanuts and cotton and to do their normal course of business. So we're hoping to work on some strategies very soon to get these offices open back soon."
Mr. Trump tweeted early Monday morning that he was headed to Nashville, although the convention speech is in New Orleans. Air Force One's departure from the D.C. area was delayed slightly Monday "so that the crew could rest an indicator light," White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley told the White House press pool.
Before leaving the White House for New Orleans,from over the weekend that the FBI opened a counterintelligence probe into whether he was, wittingly or unwittingly, working for Russia after the firing of FBI Director James Comey.
"I never worked for Russia. And you know that answer better than anybody. I never worked for Russia," Mr. Trump told reporters on the snowy South Lawn of the White House. "Not only did I never work for Russia, I think it's a disgrace that you even asked that question because it's a whole big fat hoax."