White House & President

Trump alters claim on Mexico paying for wall

President Trump said Thursday he never intended to ask Mexico to stroke out a check for the border wall.

But that is, in fact, exactly one of the proposals he made in his campaign’s white paper labeled “Pay for the Wall.”

In that plan, the president said Mexico could “make a one-time payment of $5-10 billion” to fund the wall and head off any eventual pain.

Now Mr. Trump says that was never a real option.

“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,” Mr. Trump told reporters Thursday, just before jetting to Texas to visit the border.

Instead, the president now says he will soak Mexico through the new trade deal he negotiated, and which Congress must still approve.

The White House has said increased trade and manufacturing in the U.S. will boost the economy, which means more tax revenue coming in.

Economists doubt his numbers, saying there’s no evidence any additional growth would be enough to produce tens of billions of dollars of tax revenue.

Mr. Trump, in his campaign pay-for plan, had mentioned the trade deal as a factor, but described it in terms of a cudgel to be used to force Mexico to step up and pay.

“By definition, if you have a large trade deficit with a nation, it means they are selling far more to you than the reverse — thus they, not you, stand to lose from enforcing trade rules through tariffs,” his plan said.

Other options floated in the plan included canceling visas of Mexicans as a punishment, raising visa fees and using the money to pay for the wall, or imposing a tax on remittances, or cash, sent by Mexicans working in the U.S. to relatives back home in Mexico.

“We have the leverage so Mexico will back down,” Mr. Trump said in his plan.

Three years later Mexico has shown no change in its vehement rejection of paying for the wall.

And the cost has risen well beyond Mr. Trump’s initial estimate of $5 to $10 billion. His latest full-wall request totaled $25 billion, while the partial request he made in the shutdown negotiations of $5.7 billion would build just 235 miles.

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