The White House isn’t even pretending that Mexico is going to pay for that wall anymore.
With President Trump threatening to shut down the government over Congress funding the border wall, reporters pressed White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Thursday about why Trump would insist upon Congress funding something that Mexico was supposed to be paying for — something Trump promised at dozens and dozens of campaign rallies to the delight of his crowds.
Huckabee Sanders’s responses were telling. Asked four times, she completely declined to reiterate that Mexico would pay for the wall. Each time, she deflected.
Q: Sarah, the president promised over and over again during the campaign that Mexico would pay for the wall. So why is he now threatening a government shutdown if Congress won’t pay for it?
SANDERS: The president’s committed to making sure this gets done. We know that the wall and other security measures at the border work. We’ve seen that take place over the last decade, and we’re committed to making sure the American people are protected. And we’re going to continue to push forward and make sure that the wall gets built.
Q: Why is he threatening a shutdown over — over paying for it? … He asked people — his crowds chanted back at him, ‘Mexico’s going to pay for it,’ and now he’s pushing — threatening a shutdown of the — of the government.
SANDERS: No. Once again, the President’s committed to making sure this happens, and we’re going to push forward.
Q: Since the president is going full-court press threatening a shut down over funding of the wall, does that mean he is abandoning any efforts to negotiate with Mexico any payment for construction?
SANDERS: Certainly, I don’t think any efforts have been abandoned.
Q: How is that not a concession from this White House that Mexico isn’t actually going to pay for this wall and American taxpayers will?
SANDERS: Again, this is something the president is committed to. He’s committed to protecting American lives and doing that for the border wall is something that’s important. It’s a priority and we’re moving forward with it.
QUESTION: But he’s not saying that Mexico is going to pay for it.
SANDERS: He hasn’t said they’re not, either.
“He’s not saying they’re not, either,” is a pretty fitting conclusion to these four exchanges, because it’s what Huckabee Sanders and the White House are not saying that sticks out like a sore thumb.
That’s because they’ve had answers to this question before. Trump himself has suggested that Congress would fund the wall in the near term but that Mexico would be made to pay for it later. Here’s his tweet, from April:
Eventually, but at a later date so we can get started early, Mexico will be paying, in some form, for the badly needed border wall.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 23, 2017
Then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer was asked the same question as Huckabee Sanders back in April, when the White House first wanted to attach the border wall to a government funding bill. Spicer had an answer:
Q: Isn’t Mexico supposed to pay for the wall?
SPICER: Well, I think, Jim, the president’s made very clear that initially we needed to get the funding going, and there’s to be several mechanisms to make sure that that happens. That funding piece will happen in due time.
Apparently the company line has changed, and it no longer includes Mexico paying for the wall at some future date. Of course, we probably should have seen that coming, given we now know Trump told Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto privately back in January that it wasn’t actually a huge priority for him.
Trump also proposed at the time that the two of them would simply stop talking about Mexico paying for the wall. Huckabee Sanders seems to be taking that tack.