Despite constant promises on the campaign trail to the contrary, President Donald Trump on Thursday admitted that he never meant that Mexico would literally pay for the wall he wants on the southern border.
Trump told reporters he "never said" Mexico was going to pay for the wall — a blatantly untrue statement.
His false comment came while discussing the current political crisis of his own making, where nearly 800,000 federal workers aren't getting paid in the government shutdown because he wants Congress to allocate more than $5 billion for the border wall.
"When during the campaign I would say 'Mexico is going to pay for it' — obviously I never said this" — this is 100% false — "and I never meant they're going to write out a check. I said they're going to pay for it. They are. They are paying for it with the incredible deal we made called the United States, Mexico, and Canada deal [the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement]. It's a trade deal. It has to be approved by Congress," he said.
"When I said 'Mexico will pay for the wall' in front of thousands and thousands of people — obviously they're not going to write a check. But they are paying for the wall indirectly many, many times over by the really great trade deal," he said.
Trump's answer on Thursday was part of his long-term attempt to redefine what he means by Mexico paying for the wall. It began with him saying Mexico would make an outright payment, but as officials there increasingly said this would not happen, Trump gradually changed his definition to say they would pay for it in some way. His latest iteration is saying the still-not-in-effect trade deal will pay for it.
There is nothing in the USMCA that allots funds for the wall. When asked if Mexico would be funding the wall with regard to the USMCA, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard told BuzzFeed News, "Mexico will never accept any type of participation in the payment of the wall, nor will we agree with that policy. We have already been saying it. That will be permanent."
Furthermore, any revenue raised from the new deal — it still needs to be ratified by all three country's legislatures, which is not guaranteed — would primarily come from taxes on American citizens and companies benefitting from any economic boom, not from the Mexican government. Per the Constitution, Congress decides how to allocate revenue, not the president.
When he declared his candidacy on June 16, 2015, Trump said that he would build a border wall funded by Mexico.
"I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I'll build them very inexpensively," he said. "I will build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words."
And on Trump's own campaign website is a policy paper stating that Mexico would "make a one-time payment of $5-10 billion" or face harsh reprisal from the US.
Trump also explicitly stated in campaign rallies that Mexico would pay for the wall, without mentioning any sort of indirect payment.
"We're gonna build a wall, and Mexico's gonna pay for the wall. Believe me," he said at a rally in Los Angeles on Sept. 15, 2015. "You know, a lot of politicians that said, 'Oh, they're not gonna pay, he don't know anything about—' They never read The Art of the Deal."
He repeated this claim at nearly every rally over the next year of campaigning, often repeating that he alone was capable of getting Mexico to build the wall due to his business experience.
"I know how to get Mexico to pay for the wall. They're going to pay for the wall," Trump said in an MSNBC interview Jan. 6, 2016. "The reason they're going to pay for it is because they make a fortune off the United States, and the wall is peanuts by comparison. Mexico is going to pay for the wall. They don't understand it. They say to me, some of the politicians, 'How are you going to get them to pay for the wall?' They don't get it — because I'm a business guy. This is what I do."
Although he mostly kept to the same script for rallies, in a speech in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on Jan. 16, 2016, Trump said that Mexico would pay for the wall, but that it might be in one particular way. "They're going to pay 100%. Not like 99.9% They're going to pay 100%. Now, maybe in different forms. You know, you have to have flexibility."
In almost every stump speeches at rallies, Trump would touch on Mexico paying for the wall.
"We will build a great wall around the southern border. And Mexico will pay for the wall. 100%. They don't know it yet, but they're going to pay for it. And they're great people and they're great leaders, but they're going to pay for the wall," he said on Aug. 31, 2016.
After Trump won the election, he backed off a bit from saying that Mexico would pay for the wall in one payment — but still floated it as a possibility.
"I don't feel like waiting a year or a year-and-a-half [to build the wall]," Trump said in a press conference on Jan. 11, 2017. "We're going to start building. Mexico in some form — and there are many different forms — will reimburse us, and they will reimburse us for the cost of the wall. That will happen, whether it's a tax or whether it's a payment — probably less likely that it's a payment. But it will happen."
In an interview with ABC on Jan. 25, 2017, Trump repeated his claim that Mexico would pay for the wall "100%" but hedged that it might not be as simple as he made it sound in his campaign.
"Ultimately [the money will] come out of what's happening with Mexico. We're going to be starting those negotiations relatively soon. And we will be in a form reimbursed by Mexico, which I've always said—"
"So they'll pay us back?" asked reporter David Muir.
"Yeah, absolutely. 100%, yes."
Trump also said that former Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto "had to say" that his country would not pay for the wall.
"I'm just telling you: There will be a payment. It will be in a form, perhaps a complicated form," he said. "I never said they're going to pay from the start" — which is false — "I said Mexico will pay for the wall."