President Juan Carlos Varela interjected: “Yeah, about 100 years ago.”
“But things are going well in Panama,” Trump continued later, hammering home his point.
Within minutes, Twitter had seized on what it deemed the latest Trump gaffe.
A brief recap. On Monday, Trump was hosting Varela and his wife, Lorena — a relatively routine meeting of heads of state at the White House. Statements were made. Pictures were taken.
About 103 years before that, the United States completed construction on the Panama Canal, a 50-mile ribbon of water across the Central American nation that connected the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, providing an all-water route for ships traversing the globe.
The United States ceded control of the canal to Panama in 1999. An expanded canal that holds bigger ships opened last year.
It's still too early to tell where Trump's Panama remarks will fit in the pantheon of the president's verbal gaffes.
It would be hard to unseat the “covfefe” incident from last month. Just after midnight May 31, Trump tweeted, “despite the constant negative press covfefe,” and then, apparently, hit send and went to bed.
Someone deleted the sentence fragment hours later, but not before “covfefe” spread like wildfire. It trended on Twitter and inspired a thousand memes.
And the Panama Canal comments haven't inspired the same animosity as Trump's Frederick Douglass remarks on the first day of Black History Month. That's when the Internet was fairly certain that Trump believed Douglass was a person who was still alive. (For the record, he's not.)
“Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more, I notice,” the president said. He made the statement during a “listening session” with black voters.
And Trump was lampooned for talking about a terrorist attack in Sweden that never actually happened.
At a Florida rally in February, Trump mentioned several countries that had been attacked by terrorists after taking in refugees.
“We’ve got to keep our country safe,” he said. “You look at what’s happening in Germany. You look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this?”
Apparently, no one. No attack occurred there.
“The Late Show” host Stephen Colbert even published a video montage, encouraging his viewers to “never fjorget” the people who didn't perish in the Swedish attacks.
Then a video montage flashed images of the Swedes who were not lost: Swedish Fish, Ikea, the pop group Abba — even the Muppet known as the Swedish Chef.