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Cornerstone Trump Campaign Pledge Called Into Doubt

Few could forget President-elect Trump’s pre-election campaign promise that his administration would build a “big, beautiful wall” along the US-Mexico border. That commitment–an integral part of his hardline anti-immigration stance–was accompanied by a firm pledge that Mexico would pay for the total cost of the wall. While his supporters chanted “Build the wall!” during his campaign speeches, Trump goaded them to shout back “Mexico” by asking, rhetorically, “And who’s going to pay for it?”

President-elect Trump repeatedly made that claim not only during speeches but also during the CNN’s Republican debate when he vigorously stated, referring to the executives of the Mexican government, that “we are going to make them pay for the wall.” This promise was uttered again by Trump after his visit to Mexico, even after the Mexican President, Enrique Pena Nieto, made clear on behalf of his country that “there is no way Mexico will foot the bill for a border wall.”

Trump’s reassurances regarding the payment of the wall might now be walked back entirely. According to House representatives and sources cited by CNN, Trump has specified to Republican leaders in Congress that he intends to fund the construction of the wall by means of a spending bill, which will have to be endorsed by the end of April at the latest. This means that US taxpayers–not Mexico–will bear the initial cost of Trump’s border wall plans, breaking yet another of the key campaign promises that helped him win the White House.

Early this morning, President-elect Trump responded to the news suggesting that he intends to use congressional appropriations. Rather than refute the idea, he admitted that U.S. taxpayers would have to pay for the wall, but seemed to suggest that Mexico would pay America back later on. Attacking the media once again, Trump stated in his tweet: “The dishonest media does not report that any money spent on building the Great Wall (for sake of speed), will be paid back by Mexico later!”

In October, Trump mentioned that the wall’s construction would begin “with the full understanding that the country of Mexico will be reimbursing the United States for the full cost of such a wall.” Today’s revelations and response appear to contradict that position.

Trump has never explained when or how he expects reimbursement from Mexico will occur. Trump’s transition spokesman, Sean Spicer, nevertheless defended the plan to have U.S. taxpayers front the cost for the wall, claiming that “This does not mean he’s broken his promise.” Questioned how exactly Mexico is going to pay for the wall, Spicer demurred, saying, “I think he will continue talking to them [the Mexican government] about that.”

Reportedly, the Trump team and House Republicans will use a 2006 law signed by President George W. Bush that authorizes the construction of a 700-mile physical barrier between Mexico and the U.S. Defending their case, they argue that several Senate Democrats, including Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, previously voted for the proposal. The main question remaining unanswered is whether there is an alternative plan, in the very likely scenario that Mexico refuses to reimburse the US for the wall.

Trump will face a serious challenge if his plan adds billions of dollars to the spending bill that must be endorsed by the end of April to keep the federal government from shutting down. According to Trump himself, the cost estimate for the border wall project exceeds $12 billion. And taking related expenses of maintenance and staffing into consideration, this cost is projected to double.

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  • Thanos Dimadis (www.dimadis.com) is a journalist who lives in New York. He grew up in Brussels and was born in Athens. Thanos is a member of the International Association of Journalists. Previously, he worked as a correspondent from Washington DC, Brussels, and London, and as head of political reporting in Athens.

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