President Trump on Thursday attempted to walk back his signature campaign promise, that Mexico would pay for his proposed border wall, claiming he never actually said the country would finance it.
Trump made the comments as he departed the White House to visit the U.S.-Mexico border amid a government shutdown caused by his demand that U.S. taxpayers pay for the wall themselves.
“I know the fake news likes to say it, when, during the campaign, I would say Mexico’s going to pay for it. Obviously, I never said this, and I never meant they’re going to write out a check,” Trump told reporters. “I said they’re going to pay for it. They are. They are paying for with with the incredible [trade] deal we made.”
The president doubled down moments later, adding, “When I said Mexico will pay for the wall in front of thousands of thousands of people, obviously they’re not going to write a check, but they are paying for the wall indirectly.”
Those comments directly contradict past statements Trump made on his own campaign website, as well as Trump’s own words about Mexico writing a check to Fox News’ Sean Hannity.
An archived DonaldJTrump.com page from March 2016 titled “COMPELLING MEXICO TO PAY FOR THE WALL,” reads, “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 plan, as detailed on the site, was to freeze wire transfer remittances sent from immigrants in the United States to individuals — such as family members or friends — in Mexico, unless “the Mexican government…contribute[s] the funds needed…to pay for the wall.” Other options included trade tariffs, cancelling visas, or increasing visa fees for Mexican nationals.
In April 2016, shortly after the campaign released the plan, Trump appeared at a town hall style interview with Hannity, at which the crowd began chanting “build the wall!” Trump interrupted Hannity and said, “Wait. Watch this. Are you guys ready for it? Who’s going to pay for the wall?” The audience replied, “Mexico!”
Trump noted that “the politicians say they’ll never pay — 100 percent!”
Hannity replied, “They’re not going write us a check…”
To which Trump said, “They’ll pay. They’ll pay, in one form or another. They may even write us a check by the time they see what happens. They may.”
Trump repeatedly pushed the idea of Mexico paying for the wall along the campaign trail, using it to rally crowds at his various campaign stops, typically to massive applause. However, his stance has since shifted dramatically.
Rather than claiming Mexico will finance the wall directly, the president now claims it will do so through “reimbursement” or some other method. More recently, he has claimed his attempts at marginally renegotiating NAFTA will result in a trade surplus that will find its way into the Treasury Department’s coffers, eventually funding the construction of a new wall.
Trump’s USMCA (the United States-Mexico-Canada-Agreement) is NAFTA with a few tweaks — namely increased U.S. access to foreign dairy markets, stricter manufacturing and labor provisions on imported auto parts, and limited steel tariff protections. None of the changes, however, will reimburse the U.S. Treasury enough to compensate taxpayers funding the construction of the wall.
The USMCA is also not yet in force, and won’t be for quite a while. Though Trump, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto signed the agreement last month, lawmakers in all three countries must vote to approve it. U.S. House Democrats, who recently took control back from Republicans, have already demanded changes to the agreement, and progress in Mexico and Canada is also slow.
There’s no way for Trump to know even what the economic or budgetary impact of the agreement will be yet, as a report from the U.S. International Trade Commission assessing the document has not yet been released.
This story has been updated to include a quote from an exchange Trump had with Sean Hannity.