The federal government shutdown is set to become the longest one in history, and it's all about one thing — a border wall. A Democrat-controlled House is unwilling to provide the more than $5 billion in funding that the president is demanding, and that's left Trump trying to explain what happened to his original funding plan, getting the money from Mexico. On Thursday, backtracking on his 2016 campaign promise, Trump suggested his "Mexico will pay for the wall" comments never meant Mexico would be handing the United States a $5.7 billion check.
"When during the campaign I would say Mexico is going to pay for it, obviously I never said this and I never meant they were going to write out a check, I said they're going to pay for it," Trump said, according to CBS News.
A quick fact-check reveals his statement to be false. Apart from being a frequent call-and-response at rallies (Trump asking "Who's gonna pay for it?" and supporters yelling "Mexico!" in return), the Trump campaign actually released a memo in 2016 detailing how Mexico would finance the border wall.
"It's an easy decision for Mexico," the memo reads. "Make a one-time payment of $5- 10 billion to ensure that $24 billion continues to flow into their country year after year." That $24 billion, according to the memo, comes from Mexican nationals working in the United States. The memo describes multiple consequences in case the Mexican government refused to pay — preventing undocumented Mexicans from wiring money home, withholding visas or raising visa fees, and hiking trade tariffs.
Over his nearly two years in office, Trump has explained away Mexico's involvement in wall financing in many ways. According to The Washington Post, we've heard everything from expert dealmaking or a reimbursement made to the U.S. to American tax reform, and at one point, placing solar panels on the wall to offset the cost.
But Trump's explanation on Thursday was a clear departure from campaign rhetoric, not to mention his numerous tweets and public statements on the issue. Mexico's payment for the wall, he said according to CBS, would be an indirect effect of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), a trade deal that hasn't been approved by Congress yet.
USMCA would replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), but according to economists, is unlikely to generate the amount of money necessary for a wall.
"Donald Trump keeps repeating the ludicrous claim that somehow the revised NAFTA will fund his wall even though it remains unclear if the deal will be enacted," Lori Wallach, director of trade policy for Public Citizen, said in a statement. "And if it is, the text does not include border wall funding directly nor would it generate new government revenue indirectly given it cuts the very few remaining tariffs, not raises them."
Even if USMCA did raise enough revenue, Congress would still have to vote to appropriate the money for the wall, which seems unlikely given that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appears firmly against such spending.