President Donald Trump on Thursday made the latest in a long line of contradictory statements about his proposed southern border wall and how it would be funded — this time announcing he never intended for Mexico to literally pay for the barrier.
“I knew the fake news likes to say it — when during the campaign I would say, ‘Mexico is going to pay for it,’ obviously I never said this, and I never meant they’re gonna write out a check. I said they’re going to pay for it. They are,” the president told reporters.
“Mexico is paying for the wall indirectly,” he continued, contending that a recently agreed-upon trade deal between Mexico, Canada and the U.S., known as the USMCA, would cover the cost of the wall via the deal’s more favorable terms.
The underlying math of this argument doesn’t add up, according to experts.
The USMCA “is not going to lead to the kinds of economic changes that the American people will even be able to notice, much less raise enough money to be able to pay for the wall,” Todd Tucker, of liberal think tank Roosevelt Institute, told Vox.
Trump told reporters on Thursday: “When I said Mexico will pay for the wall, in front of thousands and thousands of people, obviously they’re 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.”
Not only does this contradict statements of that very ilk that Trump often exclaimed during his 2016 presidential campaign, it comes at the same time the president is facing mounting pressure for the ongoing federal government shutdown, instigated over his demands for money for the wall.
In an address to the nation from the Oval Office on Tuesday, Trump reversed many previous statements and said he was proposing a “steel barrier” instead of a concrete wall.
Most recently, Trump walked out of a meeting with Congress members and is considering declaring a national emergency to get the wall built if lawmakers won’t approve the necessary funds, according to the New York Times.
The president has made restricting immigration, both legal and illegal, a central part of his platform dating back to his campaign. He has often argued — controversially — that such moves are necessary to protect Americans.
The border wall around which the shutdown spins, Trump said this week, is needed to end a purported “crisis,” the reality of which is much disputed: While more unaccompanied children and families have recently come to the border, the total number of illegal immigrants crossing from Mexico is historically low.
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“If this doesn’t work out, probably I will do it. I would almost say definitely,” Trump said when asked if he’d make such a move, the Times reports.
While a national emergency would provide some legal framework for his administration to freely move funds toward construction of a barrier, it would almost certainly face court challenges.
Trump’s announcement that he doesn’t want Mexico to pay for the wall directly contradicts an April 2016 memo created by his campaign team, according to CNN. The authors of that memo argued that Mexico could be persuaded to make a “one-time payment of $5-10 billion,” mainly by preventing undocumented workers from wiring funds back to family members in Mexico. Other forms of pressure to make Mexico pay for the wall included trade tariffs and “cancelling visas.” T
he last section of the memo suggested that an increase in visa fees could also help pay for the wall.
But Trump said otherwise on Thursday, though the USMCA has not yet been ratified by Congress.
Critics argue that, if the deal does go into effect, funds would be absorbed by private enterprises instead of the government — a direct refutation of Trump’s claim, according to Politico.