Thursday 20 June 2019

Trump faces cheque-mate over border wall vows

On Mission: US President Donald Trump visits the US-Mexico border town of Mission, Texas. Photo: Leah Millis/Reuters
On Mission: US President Donald Trump visits the US-Mexico border town of Mission, Texas. Photo: Leah Millis/Reuters

David Nakamura

It was a foundational promise of Donald Trump's historic presidential campaign: Mexico would pay for his 3,200km border wall. But as he desperately fights for $5.7bn (€5bn) for the project, the US president now claims he never said Mexico would directly foot the bill.

"Obviously, I never said this and I never meant they're going to write out a cheque," the president said.

The thing is he did - at least 212 times during his campaign and dozens more since he took office. And he put it in writing - in a March 2016 memo to news outlets and then posted to his campaign website.

Specifically, Trump threatened to cut off billions of dollars in remittance payments from Mexican nationals in the United States to families in their home country. That, he proclaimed, would pressure the Mexican government to cough up "a one-time payment of $5bn-$10bn" for the wall.

Experts said at the time the plan would not work and the Trump administration never tried to enact it. But two-and-a-half years later, with parts of the federal government shut down for three weeks in a budget impasse over Trump's wall, the episode illustrates how his routine application of falsehoods, exaggerations and lies in service of political combat has come back to burn him.

First, former Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto openly defied Trump and cancelled two visits to the White House, one in 2017 and one in 2018.

"Mexico will not pay for any wall," he stated. His successor, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has shown no willingness to change course.

The Republicans who controlled the US Congress over the last two years never made funding the wall with taxpayer dollars a priority.

And now during the shutdown, the White House is searching far and wide for potential pots of money it could tap as the president considers declaring the border a national emergency - sure to kick off a legal battle and inflame political tensions.

Mr Trump and his aides have floated other ideas to pressure Mexico to pay - cancelling visas or increasing processing fees for Mexicans and taxing imported goods at 20pc. But the Mexican government has flatly refused.

Most recently, Trump has resorted to arguing that Mexico will indirectly pay through a revised trade deal his administration signed with Mexico and Canada. But that deal has yet to be ratified by Congress, contains no provision earmarking money for the wall and economists have doubted whether it would significantly increase revenue to the US treasury.

"Obviously, they're not going to write a cheque," Mr Trump said of Mexico on Thursday, before departing Washington for a tour of a Border Patrol station in McAllen, Texas. "But they are paying for the wall indirectly, many, many times over, by the really great trade deal we just made."

News fact-checkers have poked holes in Mr Trump's assertions. And Democrats have not been swayed, confident the president is struggling to convince the public his strategy to shut down the government for a border wall is a political loser. (© The Washington Post)

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