President Trump made the remark during a lengthy appearance in the White House’s Rose Garden on Friday, in the midst of an extended soliloquy about the border wall that he has yet to find funding or widespread political support for.
“This should have been done by all of the presidents that preceded me,” Trump said. “And they all know it. Some of them have told me that we should have done it.”
The president has made 7,600 false or misleading statements since he became president, and some have proved more difficult than others to fact-check. This one was not. There are only four living ex-presidents. The Washington Post reached out to them to see whether they ever told Trump that a border wall should have been built before he was in office: All said they hadn’t. A spokesman for former president George H.W. Bush declined to comment, saying it was too soon for Bush, who died in November, to be “dragged into such debates."
Last month, President Trump also claimed that former president Ronald Reagan, who died 15 years ago, tried and failed to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. Former administration officials told The Washington Post they could not recall a border wall ever being discussed.
Vice President Pence was asked on the “Today” show Tuesday morning which previous presidents had told President Trump they wanted to build a wall. Pence did not give a direct answer.
“I know the president has said that that’s what his impression from previous administrations, from previous presidents,” Pence said. “I know I’ve seen clips of previous presidents talking about the importance of border security, the importance of addressing the issue of illegal immigration.”
“That’s different from telling the president though, right?” asked NBC reporter Hallie Jackson.
“You know, honestly,” Pence said, “the American people want us to address this issue.”
Eric Schultz, a spokesman for former president Barack Obama, pointed to past remarks in which Obama spoke critically about Trump’s idea for the wall.
“Suggesting that we can build an endless wall along our borders, and blame our challenges on immigrants — that doesn’t just run counter to our history as the world’s melting pot; it contradicts the evidence that our growth and our innovation and our dynamism has always been spurred by our ability to attract strivers from every corner of the globe,” Obama said at Rutgers University in 2016. “That’s how we became America. Why would we want to stop it now?”
George W. Bush
It is true that border walls hold a special place in former president George W. Bush’s legacy. The Secure Fence Act, which he signed into law, paved the way for 700 miles of fences along stretches of the border. But spokesman Freddy Ford told reporters that Bush had not discussed the wall with Trump.
Angel Urena, a spokesman for former president Bill Clinton, said Clinton had never told Trump that a border wall should have been built.
“He has not,” Urena said. “In fact, they’ve not talked since the inauguration.”
Former president Jimmy Carter has been known as a humanitarian in the more than 35 years since he was president. On Monday, the Carter Center, his nonprofit at Emory University, released a statement from him saying he had never spoken to Trump about the issue — nor would he have encouraged him on the wall if he had.
“I have not discussed the border wall with President Trump, and do not support him on the issue,” Carter said in the statement.
A Californian who often spoke of his fondness for the United States’ neighbors to the south, former president Ronald Reagan was careful in the way he navigated immigration policy during his eight years in the White House. He signed an immigration reform bill into law that made about 3 million immigrants who entered the country before 1982 eligible for amnesty, and his administration explored a litany of ways to secure the border.
None of them, former Reagan staffers told The Post, involved a physical border wall — which contrasts with President Trump’s characterization of Reagan’s policies. “Even President Ronald Reagan tried for 8 years to build a Border Wall, or Fence, and was unable to do so,” the president wrote in a tweet Dec. 21, 2018. “Others also have tried. We will get it done, one way or the other!”
“There was not any discussion at the senior policy levels during the Reagan administration about fencing or a wall that I can recall,” Doris Meissner, who was executive associate commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service during the Reagan administration, wrote in an email.