Trump appears unyielding on Mexican wall, despite chief of staff's comments
Trump comments come after report chief of staff John Kelly said president had been uninformed on wall
U.S. President Donald Trump insisted Thursday in a series of tweets his views on a border wall with Mexico have not evolved, pushing back against his own chief of staff's comments to lawmakers.
Trump said on Twitter: "The Wall is the Wall, it has never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived of it."
Some Democrats who met with White House chief of staff John Kelly on Wednesday said Kelly told them parts of the border don't need a wall — and that Trump didn't know that when making campaign promises.
Trump tweeted Thursday that some of the wall will be see-through, and he wrote that the wall was never supposed to be built where there are natural barriers. He added it "will be paid for, directly or indirectly, or through longer term reimbursement, by Mexico, which has a ridiculous $71 billion dollar trade surplus with the U.S."
Trump then brought up the spectre of drugs and crime, calling Mexico the "most dangerous country in the world," although the nation didn't figure in the World Economic Forum's most recent rankings of 20 most dangerous countries.
We need the Wall for the safety and security of our country. We need the Wall to help stop the massive inflow of drugs from Mexico, now rated the number one most dangerous country in the world. If there is no Wall, there is no Deal!—@realDonaldTrump
Kelly's assertion that Trump's views on immigration had been uninformed and had evolved came as lawmakers try to reach an accord on protecting hundreds of thousands of young immigrants from deportation, a push the White House and Republicans say they would back, if it's coupled with tough border security measures and other restrictions.
Kelly made the remarks about Trump and the wall Wednesday at a closed-door meeting with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, participants said, and he made similar comments later on Fox News Channel.
Kelly said on Fox he told the caucus "they all say things during the course of campaigns that may or may not be fully informed." He said Trump has "very definitely changed his attitude" toward protecting the young immigrants, "and even the wall, once we briefed him."
"So he has evolved in the way he's looked at things," Kelly said. "Campaign to governing are two different things and this president has been very, very flexible in terms of what is within the realms of the possible."
Vicente Fox, former Mexican president and frequent Trump critic, told CBC News on Thursday morning that it's another example of a president "trying to impose his will' in a democratic process.
"It's an absolute mess, the White House. Nobody can plan ahead, nobody can think what's coming," said Fox.
His comments echo concerns expressed by Democrats and even Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who have felt on more than one occasion that they were close to a deal on the about 800,000 people who arrived in the U.S. illegally as children, and could be deported without legal protections. Part of negotiators' problem has been uncertainty over what Trump would accept.
Figuring out what Trump wants
Trump's rejection of a possible deal last week angered the bargainers, and partisan feelings worsened after participants in a White House meeting last week claimed Trump had referred to African nations as "shitholes."
"He's not yet indicated what measure he's willing to sign," Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, told reporters Wednesday. "As soon as we figure out what he is for, then I will be convinced that we would not just be spinning our wheels going to this issue on the floor."
Trump ended the legal shields on so-called Dreamers last year and gave Congress until March to renew them.
Kelly said on Fox News that "there's no doubt in my mind there's going to be a deal" protecting the Dreamers.
Kelly's comments openly acknowledged the difference between campaign promises and governing, and even suggested that Trump needed to be educated on the subject.
Some lawmakers who met with Kelly on Wednesday recounted his remarks.
"He specifically said that there's some areas of the border that didn't need the wall, and that the president didn't know that when he was making his campaign promises," Rep. Ruben Gallego, an Arizona Democrat, said in a brief interview.
Another lawmaker, Rep. Luis, Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat, said Kelly told them "there were statements made about the wall that were not informed statements. In other words, I've informed the president of what it takes to build a wall, so here's how we're going to do it. That's what I understood, and all of that was helpful."
Many Democrats have said that without an immigration deal in sight, they'll vote against a Republican bill preventing a weekend government shutdown. Congressional passage must come by Friday to prevent an election-year shutdown of federal agencies that could be damaging to both parties.
Mexico will have new leadership in July
During his presidential campaign, Trump made it a mantra to promise to build a "beautiful" wall that would be paid for by Mexico. Supporters at his rallies often chanted, "Build that wall."
An angry Fox told CBC News that was a non-starter south of the border.
"What worries me is that word 'directly,'" he said. "Then he might still have in his mind that one way or another that Mexico will pay."
"U.S. taxpayers will pay full 100 per cent the cost of that wall, which is a waste of money [and] a waste of time and I'm sure U.S. taxpayers don't want to pay for that."
White House officials have repeatedly said it doesn't have to be a concrete wall from coast to coast but could include large stretches of fencing, technology or other systems. Trump also now wants Congress to provide taxpayer money to finance it.
Last week, during the open-camera part of a meeting with congressional Democrats and Republicans, Trump appeared to offer alternative possibilities for what the wall would entail.
Mexico's foreign ministry released a statement on Thursday re-iterating it is not paying for a border wall and pushing back on one of Trump's claims on social media.
"Even though Mexico has a significant problem with violence, it is plainly false that Mexico is the most dangerous country in the world," the ministry said.
Mexico will hold an election in July to determine who will succeed current President Enrique Pena Nieto, which will impact relations on border security and trade, with the future of NAFTA unclear. Current favourite in the polls Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is a left-wing populist who has said he's looking for a relationship of friendship with the Americans, but not "submission."
With files from CBC News and Reuters