Two years into his presidency, Donald Trump is still trying to convince Congress to cough up billions of hard-earned tax dollars to build his wall on the southern border with Mexico.
He originally promised voters that Mexico would pay for the 2,000-mile concrete wall, and his supporters swallowed it hook, line and sinker.
They bought it even after the president of Mexico flatly told him at a face-to-face meeting on the border during the campaign that they were never going to pay for his dream wall. But he continued to repeat his false promise at all of his rallies, asking his supporters, “And who’s going to pay for the wall?” “Mexico!” his fans shouted back.
Now, with his job approval polls stuck in the lower 40 percent range, and the Democrats, who now control the House of Representatives, refusing to spend one nickel on his wall, Trump is raising the stakes.
He is refusing to sign a budget bill unless it contains the $5.7 billion he wants to begin construction of his wall, triggering a partial government shutdown that he says he will not reopen until Congress gives him the money.
Then he went on nationwide television to deliver what The Washington Post called a “fact-challenged” speech from the Oval Office on Tuesday, telling the American people that the U.S. faced “a growing humanitarian and security crisis” on the Mexican border.
In a misleading, fear-mongering speech, he proceeded to tell Americans that thousands of Mexicans are illegally pouring into our country, largely composed of criminals, rapists, murderers and drug smugglers.
One false claim that he’s made before — that terrorists were also crossing the border into the U.S. — was missing from his speech. Fact-checkers and TV anchors, including those at Fox News, have questioned that claim.
Still, Trump administration officials have raised issues of terrorists entering across the border. But when NBC News looked into those claims, it turned out that U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents “encountered only six immigrants at ports of entry on the U.S.-Mexican border in the first half of fiscal year 2018 whose names were on a federal government list of known or suspected terrorists,” according to data given to Congress that was obtained by NBC.
In Trump’s world, only the worst elements in Mexico are crossing the border. Yet, in reality, most are presenting themselves at the border seeking safety, asylum, jobs and a better life.
What Trump doesn’t tell Americans is that the number of migrants crossing the border illegally has fallen to a 20-year low.
A recent Reuters news service story says this: “Illegal border crossings into the United States have declined dramatically in recent years, yet Trump insists a wall is still necessary to stem a ‘humanitarian and national crisis’ in the region.”
Illegal crossings and apprehensions peaked at 1.6 million in 2000, but have since fallen to a little over 300,000 in 2017. That’s the lowest in 45 years.
In fact, there are many more cases of people who just have overstayed their visas than border-crossing arrests.
As for drug smugglers, it is true that 90 percent of the heroin sold in the U.S. comes from Mexico, the Post says, but “virtually all of it comes through legal points of entry.
“A small percentage of all heroin seized by (Customs and Border Protection) was between Ports of Entry,” the Drug Enforcement Administration said in a 2018 report. So Trump’s wall would do little to halt drug trafficking.”
Then there’s Trump’s specious claim that if Congress does not appropriate the $5.7 billion for his wall, he will get the money from his newly negotiated North American Free Trade Agreement.
“The wall will also be paid for indirectly by the great new trade deal we have made with Mexico,” he said Tuesday night.
The Post called this part of his Oval Office speech a “Four Pinocchio claim.”
“This betrays a misunderstanding of economics,” the newspaper said. “Countries do not ‘lose’ money on trade deficits, so there is no money to earn; the size of a trade deficit or surplus can be determined by other factors besides trade.”
Trade experts explained this is false, too, according to NBC’s fact-checker. “There’s nothing in the new trade deal that earmarks funds for the border wall. Revenue raised by tariffs are federal dollars that must be appropriated by Congress.”
Trump must have skipped his Economics 101 course at the Wharton School of Business.
Donald Lambro has been covering Washington politics for more than 50 years as a reporter, editor and commentator.