President Donald Trump said Thursday that he never promised Mexico would literally write a check to pay for a border wall — even though his 2016 presidential campaign said it had a plan to make Mexico fork over the cash.
The president has insisted Congress give him funds to build the wall as part of legislation to reopen the federal government, which is weeks into a partial shutdown. Democrats have refused to hand over the money. Trump has said even though taxpayers would fund the wall on the front end, a revamped trade deal with Mexico and Canada would indirectly pay for it later.
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“When, during the campaign, I would say Mexico is going to pay for it, obviously I never said this and I never meant they are going to write out a check,” Trump told reporters Thursday.
Trump’s promise to build a border wall in an effort to stem illegal immigration became a centerpiece of his presidential campaign, as well as his campaign rallies, where a call and response with supporters that Mexico would pay for the wall became a staple. Trump on Thursday seemed to suggest that it was an unspoken understanding that Mexico’s payments would come indirectly.
“When I said Mexico will pay for the wall in front of thousands and thousands of people, obviously, they are not going to write a check, but they are paying for the wall indirectly many, many times over by the really great trade deal we just made,” he said.
That deal has yet to be ratified by Congress and has not gone into effect.Critics have pointed out that any savings due to the new deal would flow to private businesses rather than the U.S. Treasury, contrary to Trump’s claims.
Trump’s new insistence that he never envisioned Mexico writing a check to pay for the wall is contradicted by a since-archived memo posted on his campaign website in 2016. The memo, titled “Compelling Mexico to Pay for the Wall,” outlines a plan to pressure Mexico to put up funds for a border wall within three days of Trump taking office.
“It’s an easy decision for Mexico: make a one-time payment of $5-10 billion to ensure that $24 billion continues to flow into their country year after year,” the memo says, referring to “remittances from Mexican nationals working in the United States.”
The memo says that Trump would propose on his first day in office a rule aimed at barring undocumented immigrants in the U.S. from wiring money outside the country, which Mexico would “immediately protest” on Day 2.
“On day 3 tell Mexico that if the Mexican government will contribute the funds needed to the United States to pay for the wall, the Trump Administration will not promulgate the final rule, and the regulation will not go into effect,” the memo states.
At that point, the memo also suggests threatening “trade tariffs, or enforcement of existing trade rules” and canceling visas or increasing visa fees to compel Mexico to pay.
As negotiations over reopening the federal government have come to a standstill, Trump said Thursday that he would not hesitate to declare a national emergency to bypass Congress and use military resources to build the border wall. Such a declaration would face swift legal challenges that could delay the process for months or even years, though Trump said his lawyers advised him he has the “absolute right” to do so.