Thursday 12 December 2019

Trump denies softening stance on Mexico wall

US President Donald Trump gestures next to Chief of Staff John Kelly at the White House in October. Photo: Reuters
US President Donald Trump gestures next to Chief of Staff John Kelly at the White House in October. Photo: Reuters

Ben Riley-Smith

US President Donald Trump publicly contradicted his own chief of staff over the Mexican border wall yesterday as tensions frayed ahead of an impending government shutdown.

Mr Trump disputed John Kelly's claims that his views on the barrier had "evolved" and that he was not "fully informed" during the election campaign. Mr Kelly's comments, made behind closed doors but confirmed in a Fox News interview, came as Republicans attempted to broker a deal to keep the government funded.

Washington demonstrators call for protection of Dreamers. Photo: Reuters
Washington demonstrators call for protection of Dreamers. Photo: Reuters

Democrats want protections for "dreamer" migrants who entered the US illegally as children to be included in the spending bill, but Republicans want money for border security, including the wall.

The deadline is midnight today. Failure to agree a deal will trigger a government shutdown, meaning staff at non-essential government programmes cannot work.

The stand-off has escalated splits within the Republican Party, with Mr Trump criticised for refusing to make his stance on key immigration issues clear. The president is facing the political challenge of following through on hardline immigration promises while also needing Democratic votes to approve future spending.

In a bid to break the impasse, Mr Kelly talked to a group of Democrats - the congressional Hispanic caucus - to hear their demands. Leaked comments from the meeting appeared to reveal Mr Kelly taking a more moderate stance on immigration than Mr Trump had before the election.

Mr Kelly reportedly said a wall would not be built along the entire Mexican border, admitted that Mexico would not directly pay for it and said Mr Trump was "uninformed" during the campaign. Numerous US media outlets cited the comments.

Mr Kelly did little to dispute the reports in a later interview with Fox News, saying that Mr Trump was not "fully informed" on the border wall during the campaign. He said Mr Trump's thinking had "evolved" and added that there are parts of the border where a physical wall would not work, such as mountainous areas.

Writing on Twitter, Mr Trump contradicted the suggestion that his thinking had changed, amid claims he had been angered by the remarks.

He wrote: "The wall is the wall, it has never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived of it.

"The wall will be paid for, directly or indirectly, or through longer term reimbursement, by Mexico, which has a ridiculous $71bn (€58bn) trade surplus with the US.

"The $20bn wall is 'peanuts' compared to what Mexico makes from the US. NAFTA is a bad joke!"

The spat is not the first time Mr Trump has clashed with colleagues in public, but it reflects tensions between the president and Mr Kelly, a retired four-star general given the job to bring order to the White House last summer.

Mr Trump yesterday undermined his own party's attempts to secure a deal to avoid a government shutdown.

On Twitter he appeared to criticise the extension of a children's health insurance programme, which was being used to convince Democrats to give their support.

The deadline could be pushed back if Republicans and Democrats agree a temporary delay - something that happened just before Christmas.

The mixed signals underscore the difficulty congressional Republicans have faced as they have tried to decipher what the president wants in an immigration deal.

They have contributed to tensions over how to resolve the legal status of immigrants, known as 'dreamers', who were brought to the country illegally as children.

"I'm looking for something that President Trump supports, and he's not yet indicated what measure he's willing to sign," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters yesterday.

In an interview yesterday, the president called a bipartisan deal worked out by Democrat senator Dick Durbin and Republican senator Lindsey Graham "horrible" and "very, very weak".

"It's the opposite of what I campaigned for," he said.

© Daily Telegraph, London

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