President Donald Trump on Friday morning continued practicing revisionist history over his campaign-trail pledge to make Mexico pay for his proposed southern border wall that has pushed a partial government shutdown into its 21st day.
The president twice on Thursday raised brows as he flatly denied ever saying that America’s southern neighbor would foot the bill for the border structure that he is struggling to obtain funds for from the U.S. Congress.
“When during the campaign, I would say ‘Mexico is going to pay for it,’ obviously, I never said this, and I never meant they’re going to write out a check,” Trump said during yet another mini-press conference as he departed the White House for a trip to the border region in Texas. “I said, ‘They're going to pay for it.’ They are.”
The president’s contention, which has been questioned by Democratic lawmakers and some trade experts, is that the Mexican government will pay for the border barrier “indirectly,” via, in his words, “the incredible deal we made, called the United States, Mexico, and Canada — USMCA — deal.”
Watch: Trump, Pelosi dig in to their positions on border security as president heads to Texas
Later Thursday, while flanked by Texas GOP Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz — a former 2016 GOP primary rival — the president jousted with reporters in McAllen, Texas, about the comment he made before leaving Washington.
“Excuse me,” Trump said as he interrupted a reporter asking about the false morning statement. “When I say, ‘Mexico’s going to pay for the wall,’ do you think they’re going to write a check for $20 billion or $10 billion or $5 billion or two cents? No. Of course not.”
The reporter shot back: “You proposed that in your campaign, sir.”
The president — wearing khakis, a black jacket with the presidential seal and a white “Make America Great Again” baseball cap — appeared to grow agitated with the questioning.
“No. They would pay for the wall in a great trade deal,” he replied. “You had the worst trade deal anywhere in the world in NAFTA. We lost thousands of businesses, millions of jobs, millions of jobs.”
The matter was still on Trump’s mind as the sun rose in Washington, where he returned Thursday evening, Friday morning.
He fired off a tweet around 7 a.m. touting the trade deal, which still must be blessed by lawmakers, writing: “It is Billions of Dollars a year better than the very bad NAFTA deal which it replaces. The difference pays for Wall many times over!”
I often said during rallies, with little variation, that “Mexico will pay for the Wall.” We have just signed a great new Trade Deal with Mexico. It is Billions of Dollars a year better than the very bad NAFTA deal which it replaces. The difference pays for Wall many times over!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 11, 2019
But Trump’s comment drew the ire of those on the left and right, and his insistence on getting $5.7 billion for his border barrier — though House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., says he would accept a lesser amount in any final deal — continues to rankle Democratic members.
Michael Steele, a former Republican National Committee chairman, responded to Trump’s Thursday false statement sardonically in a tweet that included Trump’s “check” remark: “Obviously. Wherever could we have gotten the idea they would?” Steele added the mocking hashtag “#BuildTheWallIndirectly.”
Trump: "Mexico is paying for the wall indirectly and when I said Mexico will pay for the wall in front of thousands and thousands of people, obviously they're not gonna write a check." Obviously. Wherever could we have gotten the idea they would? #BuildTheWallIndirectly— Michael Steele (@MichaelSteele) January 11, 2019
And the left-leaning organization ThinkProgress tweeted this: “Trump’s new claim about Mexico paying for the wall is debunked by his own campaign website.”
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer on Thursday accused the president of using “hardworking Americans” who are furloughed under the shutdown and not getting paychecks Friday “as leverage — pawns in his political gambit to extract $5 billion from American taxpayers to fund a border wall that he promised Mexico would pay for.”
“This is ridiculous and cruel,” Schumer said, adding this demand: “And it needs to end now. Right now.”
What’s more, New York Democratic Rep. Grace Meng plans to introduce legislation on Friday to prevent Trump from using a national emergency declaration to fund a wall along the southern border amid reports the White House has asked the Army Corps of Engineers to begin the process of locating the funds to do so should be make the declaration.
Dubbed the “No Walls Act,” the bill would prohibit the construction of barriers, including fences walls and steel slats, along the U.S.-Mexico border if national emergencies are declared during government shutdowns.
“It is unconscionable that President Trump is threatening to side-step Congress and declare a fake national emergency in order to build his wall, as funding for the government and more than 800,000 federal workers hangs in the balance,” Meng said in a statement. “We must send a clear message to the President that creating this type of manufactured emergency for the sole purpose of securing an unrealistic campaign promise is unacceptable.”
Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report