Donald Trump has claimed that, despite his repeated promises that Mexico would pay for a wall on US southern border, he “obviously never meant Mexico would write a cheque”.
Mr Trump’s website for his 2016 campaign had previously stated that the border country would make a “one-time payment of “$5-$10 billion”.
Instead, the president most recently claimed that Mexico would pay for the wall through changes to trade policy his administration has negotiated to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement. That new deal, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), has not been approved by congress yet but the president said on Thursday that it ”probably will be”.
The USMCA will mean Mexico will be “paying for wall indirectly, many, many times over”, Mr Trump said on Thursday. He then boarded Air Force One to fly to McAllen, Texas, where he hopes to drum up support for congressional approval for US taxpayer funding to build the wall.
The 2016 promise that Mexico would directly pay for the wall was also included in a “pay for the wall” memo Mr Trump’s team issued early that year that proposed pressuring Mexico by cutting off remittances sent from undocumented Mexicans in the United States. It proposed amending the Patriot Act, passed after the 9/11 attacks.
“It’s an easy decision for Mexico: make a one-time payment of $5-10 billion to ensure that $24 billion [in remittances] continues to flow into their country year after year,” the memo said. “We have the leverage, so Mexico will back down,” it said.
Speaking outside the White House, the president claimed he “never said they were going to write out a cheque” and that Mexico would pay for it indirectly “many, many times over”.
The president has amended his promise that Mexico would pay for the wall several times over the past couple of years that he has been in office, but his statement on Thursday is one of the first times that he has explicitly denied those earlier promises of direct payment.
Mr Trump’s trip to Texas comes on the 20th day of a partial US government shutdown sparked by a refusal from Democrats to acquiesce to the president’s demand for border wall payment.
After several meetings between congressional leadership and the president over the past few weeks, talks appeared to break down on Wednesday after speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi told the president that Democrats had no intention to negotiate on wall funding, and that the government must be reopened without it.
Apparently aware of the difficulty he will have in forcing Democrats to fund the wall, the president has recently suggested that he may declare a state of emergency in the US to open up funds to do so. A state of emergency would allow the president to divert funds from other areas of the government, and to mobilise the US military in service of building the wall.
On Thursday, Mr Trump promised that he would get his wall, one way or another.
“If we don’t make a deal, I think it would be very surprising to me [if I don’t declare a state of emergency]”, Mr Trump said.