President Trump is a bit more than a month away from his two-year anniversary in office, a period during which his party has had majorities in both chambers of Congress. Over that time, Trump has repeatedly pushed for money to be allocated to build a wall on the border with Mexico but, repeatedly, has come up short. While Trump claims that the wall is being constructed, it isn’t.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) even called Trump’s bluff during a meeting Tuesday in the Oval Office.
“The fact is,” she said, “the House Republicans could bring up this bill if they had the votes immediately and set the tone for what you want.”
Trump replied: “If we thought we were going to get it passed in the Senate, Nancy, we would do it immediately. We would get it passed very easily in the House. We would get it.”
The threat of being rejected by the Senate hasn’t stopped House Republicans from passing legislation in the past. Shortly after President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law in 2010, Republicans offered a flurry of repeal bills that went nowhere.
It’s critical to remember that Trump repeatedly promised on the campaign trail that none of this would be necessary. Over and over and over again, he insisted that the wall would be paid for not from the United States' budget but from Mexico’s. That rhetoric began even before he was a formal candidate, with Trump telling a reporter in April 2015 that he would have Mexico pay for the wall.
“I will build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall,” he said at his campaign launch in June 2015. “Mark my words.”
We marked them. He offered some variation on those words 190 times from the day he announced his candidacy until now, according to data from Factba.se.
Or, more precisely, until May of this year, the most recent time he made the claim. That was at a rally in Tennessee, where Trump stood before a pair of large signs reading: “Promises made. Promises Kept.”
It was obviously never going to be the case that Mexico paid for a wall on its border with the United States, something that the media noted repeatedly when Trump made the claim. But he kept insisting he would prove the media wrong.
Once he became president, that insistence became much less frequent. His claims that Mexico would pay for the wall began to increasingly include an important qualifier: There were “many forms” that payment could take, as he said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal in January.
(Asked to explain, Trump replied: “You know, we make a good deal on NAFTA, say I’m going to take a small percentage of that money and it’s going to go toward the wall. Guess what? Mexico’s paying.” The deal he’s since reached with Mexico on a revamped trade bill doesn’t appear to contain any such provision. According to The Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey, he made a similar claim on Tuesday.)
But, again, Trump also hasn’t been able to persuade American legislators to pay for the wall. During his meeting with Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday, he embraced the idea that he would block a government funding bill if it excluded money for the wall, something that could result in a government shutdown.
A poll released by NPR-PBS NewsHour-Marist on Tuesday shows that most Americans — including more than a quarter of Republicans — think it’s more important for Trump to keep the government open than it is to force funding for the wall.
Tuesday wasn’t the first time that Trump had threatened a shutdown over wall funding: As my colleague Aaron Blake noted on Twitter, he has made similar threats repeatedly. Those, too, have come to naught.
Back to that meeting. Pelosi’s point about wall funding, as she soon made very clear, wasn’t that Trump could get funding for the wall through the House if he wanted. It was that he couldn’t.
“There are no votes in the House, a majority of votes, for a wall,” Pelosi said.
“If I needed the votes for the wall in the House, I would have them in one session,” Trump replied. “It would be done.”
“Well, then go do it,” Pelosi rebutted. “Go do it.”
Pelosi, like many Americans, is certainly cognizant that Trump’s past promises to easily obtain funding for the wall have proved somewhat hollow.