Politics

Trump Contradicts Kelly, Claims Wall Views Have Not ‘Evolved’

Chief of staff contends president was previously ‘uninformed’

President Donald Trump was up early on Thursday contradicting what his chief of staff had told lawmakers about the southern border wall on Wednesday. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Contradicting his chief of staff, Donald Trump on Thursday claimed his thinking about a southern border wall has not “evolved,” and returned to his vow that Mexico, one way or another, will pay for it.

Kelly first described Trump’s views on the U.S.-Mexico border barrier as changed during a Wednesday morning meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on Capitol Hill. The retired Marine Corps four-star general kept up his rare public remarks about the controversial Trump campaign pledge during an evening cable news interview.

“So he has evolved in the way he’s looked at things,” Kelly said on Fox News Channel. “Campaign to governing are two different things, and this president has been very, very flexible in terms of what is within the realms of the possible.”

Kelly on Wednesday also reportedly described Trump’s knowledge of the terrain on the rugged border as “uninformed.”

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Since Kelly joined the White House staff in August, aides have shifted their tone on the border barrier, saying more often that in some places it will indeed be the concrete-and-reinforced steel structure described by candidate Trump — but fencing in other places and nothing in areas where raging rivers or other impossible-to-navigate natural hazards compose the U.S.-Mexico border.

But — as often happens in the Trump White House — the boss was up early the next morning directly contradicting a senior staff member.

Once again, the morning tweets showed how the president often says one thing while his senior staff is trying to sell another message toward a specific goal — in this case, trying to soften Trump’s rhetoric to help Republicans, Democrats and the administration find enough common ground to craft and pass a sweeping immigration bill.

The president, just after 6 a.m. ET, fired off a tweet claiming his vision for the proposed wall “has never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived of it.”

Trump introduced anew the idea that part of the wall would be “see through,” adding “it was never intended to be built in areas where there is natural protection such as mountains, wastelands or tough rivers or water.....”

Trump has formally asked Congress for around $1.5 billion to continue the early phases of his proposed wall. But late last week, he rejected a bipartisan Senate immigration compromise that included $1.6 billion for the program; Trump wants all $18 billion in one lump sum.

When Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois reportedly informed him that is not how the federal appropriations process works — it provides yearly funding chunks — the president allegedly lost his cool during a Thursday afternoon Oval Office meeting.

Trump, since Kelly became his top staffer, has mostly dropped his public pronouncements that Mexico will pay the U.S government back to cover the costs of the border barrier project. But he was back at it on Thursday morning.

In a second tweet, he wrote that it will be paid for “directly or indirectly, or through longer term reimbursement, by Mexico.” He lambasted America’s southern neighbor for its “ridiculous $71 billion dollar trade surplus with the U.S.,” and suggested the ongoing renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement would produce benefits for the U.S. government to essentially pay for the wall.

“The $20 billion dollar Wall is ‘peanuts’ compared to what Mexico makes from the U.S. NAFTA is a bad joke!” he tweeted.

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