WASHINGTON ― Having failed to force Mexico to pay for a border wall as he promised he would, President Donald Trump on Friday repeated his false claim that a tweaked North American Free Trade Agreement is effectively making that country pay.
“We will be making billions and billions of dollars a year more money. And that is paying for the wall. Many, many times over,” Trump said in another rambling, hourlong news conference filled with such falsehoods.
“What we save on that just with Mexico will pay for the wall many times over just in a period of a year, two years, or three years. So I view that as, absolutely, Mexico is paying for the wall,” he claimed.
The White House has not provided any economic analysis to back up Trump’s claims, despite weeks of queries from HuffPost.
Outside economists and trade experts, however, said the revised NAFTA ― which Trump has rebranded as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement ― will not bring into the U.S. Treasury anywhere near what is necessary to pay for a wall. Even more important: What extra money does come in will be from tariffs, which are paid by Americans, not Mexico.
“It’s not true,” said Monica de Bolle, a trade expert at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, of Trump’s claim. “What it really is is American consumers paying higher prices for stuff. So it’s the American consumer who’s paying for the wall, if you want to look at it that way. It’s just total crazyland, and it’s only going to get worse.”
Trump’s untrue claim about the trade agreement was accompanied by the announcement that he “may” declare a national emergency and bypass Congress to build the wall.
Trump also confirmed that he told congressional leaders that the two-week-old government shutdown could last months or even more than a year if Congress doesn’t give him what he wants.
“I did say that. Absolutely I said that,” he told reporters in a chilly Rose Garden not long after a two-hour meeting with Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the minority leaders from both chambers.
But he said that if negotiations do not produce the $5.6 billion in border wall funding he is demanding, he can simply spend money on his own. “We can call a national emergency because of the security of our country, absolutely,” he said. “No, we can do it. I haven’t done it. I may do it. I may do it. But we can call a national emergency and build it very quickly.”
Were Trump actually to make such a declaration, though, it would almost certainly draw immediate legal challenges and, in all likelihood, court orders blocking him.
“The president’s authority in this area is intended for wars and genuine national emergencies,” said Evan Hollander, a spokesman for the House Appropriations Committee’s Democratic members. “Asserting this authority to build a wasteful wall is legally dubious and would likely invite a court challenge.”
Vermont Democratic Sen. Pat Leahy, the vice chairman of the Senate version of that committee, said there was no actual emergency for Trump to declare.
“There is no national emergency on the southern border. Between 2000 and 2018, border apprehensions fell sharply from roughly 1.6 million in fiscal year 2000 to approximately 400,000 in fiscal year 2018 ― that’s a 75 percent drop,” Leahy said in a statement. “The president stealing resources from the Defense Department for the construction of a wasteful border wall, at taxpayer expense, to defend against the president’s imaginary invasion would make our country less safe and the men and women of our military less safe.”
Friday’s was the second meeting between Trump and the Republican and Democratic congressional leadership this week, but the first since Pelosi formally became speaker with the start of the new Congress. Democrats won 40 seats in the November midterm elections, giving them control of that chamber.
Both Trump and Democratic lawmakers said both sides would have staff negotiate through the weekend. Trump said his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Vice President Mike Pence would lead his team.
About a quarter of the federal government ran out of operating money two weeks ago, at midnight on Dec. 21, after Trump reneged on his commitment to sign a short-term spending bill that had already passed the Senate on a unanimous vote. Trump changed his mind after Fox News and talk radio hosts ridiculed him for again backing down on his demand for wall money.
Trump promised hundreds of times during his campaign that the wall would cost taxpayers nothing because he would force Mexico to pay for it. But since taking office, Trump has never asked Mexico for payment even a single time. Instead, he began threatening to shut down the government early last year unless Congress gave him billions of dollars for it ― even though the structure of what he wants is unclear.
During the campaign, he promised a “great, great” wall made of reinforced concrete that extended so far underground that it would be impossible to tunnel underneath. In recent months, he has said the wall could just be steel slats ― which would be the “bollard fencing” that was developed during President Barack Obama’s administration.