If you showed up hungry for lunch with a friend on the understanding they’re picking up the tab, you’d probably feel swindled if they ordered the most expensive appetizer, unexpectedly asked you to cover the check, and then promised to pay you back later. But that’s the approach President-elect Donald Trump is taking with one of his signature campaign promises.
On Friday, CNN reported that Trump’s transition team “has signaled to congressional Republican leaders that his preference is to fund the border wall through the appropriations process as soon as April, according to House Republican officials.” Meanwhile, the AP reports that Trump’s “wall” will actually involve “fencing and other technology along the southern border.”
U.S. taxpayers footing the bill for “fencing and other technology” falls far short of the promise Trump repeatedly made during his campaign, when one of his signature pledges was that Mexico would pay the entire cost of a roughly $10 billion “great wall.” (One study concluded building a physical wall along the southern border would actually cost as much as $40 billion, which might explain why Trump’s “wall” is looking more of a high-tech fence these days.)
During the speech in which he launched his candidacy in June 2015, Trump said, “I will build a great wall — and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me — and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”
Then, during a town hall hosted by Sean Hannity in February 2016, Trump said, “we’re going to build a wall and it’s going to be a serious wall.” He urged listeners to “just remember — and you remember I said it. Mexico is going to pay for the wall.”
“If I’m wrong about this, you’re going to all come back, have another meeting and I’ll apologize to you, okay?” Trump added. “It’s going to be a serious wall, it’s going to be a great wall — it’s not going to be a wall that they just climb up.”
In August, Trump traveled to Mexico. Following the trip, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto released a statement vowing that his country would not pay for a border wall. But Trump was undeterred, telling an audience at a rally in Phoenix on the evening of his return that “we will build a great wall along the southern border… and Mexico will pay for the wall.”
“They don’t know it yet, but they’re going to pay for the wall,” Trump added. “On day one, we will begin working on an impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful southern border wall.”
That was Trump’s line for almost his entire campaign. But at a rally in October, Trump floated the idea that American taxpayers would actually initially foot the bill for the wall, saying that his agenda for the first 100 days of his presidency included passage of an “End Illegal Immigration Act” that “fully funds the construction of a wall on our southern border… with the full understanding that the country of Mexico will be reimbursing the United States for the full cost of such a wall.”
In a tweet posted Friday morning, Trump reiterated that approach.
The dishonest media does not report that any money spent on building the Great Wall (for sake of speed), will be paid back by Mexico later!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 6, 2017
Mexico has signaled no willingness to play along. But during a CNN appearance Friday morning, Trump surrogate Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) expressed confidence Trump will ultimately be able to strong-arm the Mexican government into ponying up.
“When you understand that Mexico’s economy is dependent upon US consumers, Donald Trump has all the cards he needs to play,” Collins said. “On the trade negotiation side, I don’t think it’s that difficult for Donald Trump to convince Mexico that it’s in their best interest to reimburse us for building the wall.”
During the campaign, Trump suggested that blocking billions of dollars in money transfers — known as remittances — that immigrants living in the United States send back to Mexico to support their family members would be one way the Mexican government could be coerced into paying for the wall.
But on Thursday night, former Mexican President Vincente Fox reiterated that his country won’t pay for Trump’s “racist monument.”
“Trump may ask whoever he wants, but still neither myself nor Mexico are going to pay for his racist monument. Another promise he can’t keep,” Fox tweeted.
While chants of “build the wall!” were a staple at Trump campaign rallies, polling conducted around the time of Trump’s Mexico trip indicates more than 60 percent of Americans oppose the idea. The new plan of having American taxpayers cover the bill certainly won’t help it become more popular, but if Republican members of Congress resist the idea of spending as much as $40 billion for a border wall, the Washington Post’s Robert Costa writes that the Trump team is considering “framing the wall as both infrastructure/jobs [and] border control, should there be GOP resistance.”