President Donald Trump told Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto in a private phone call that whether or not Mexico paid for Trump’s proposed border wall “is the least important thing,” but that the Mexican President could not say so in public, according a transcript of the call published by the Washington Post Thursday.
A day before the call, on Jan. 26, Peña Nieto cancelled a planned meeting with Trump in Washington, D.C., as Trump continued to insist that Mexico would pay for the border wall. “If Mexico is unwilling to pay for the badly needed wall, then it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting,” Trump wrote.
On Jan. 27, after the call, both leaders released statements saying they had agreed not to discuss wall payment, acknowledging that they had differences of opinion.
The call transcript, however, reveals Trump said he must mislead the American people in order to sail through the turmoil he had created with the Mexican president.
“[Y]ou and I are both at a point now where we are both saying we are not to pay for the wall,” Trump said. “From a political standpoint, that is what we will say. We cannot say that anymore because if you are going to say that Mexico is not going to pay for the wall, then I do not want to meet with you guys anymore because I cannot live with that. I am willing to say that we will work it out, but that means it will come out in the wash and that is okay. But you cannot say anymore that the United States is going to pay for the wall.”
“I am just going to say that we are working it out,” Trump continued. “Believe it or not, this is the least important thing that we are talking about, but politically this might be the most important talk about.”
Later, Peña Nieto returned to the wall, and made his position clear: “I have recognized the right of any government to protect its borders as it deems necessary and convenient,” he said. “But my position has been and will continue to be very firm saying that Mexico cannot pay for that wall.”
“But you cannot say that to the press,” Trump replied. “The press is going to go with that and I cannot live with that. You cannot say that to the press because I cannot negotiate under those circumstances.”
Peña Nieto responded: “I understand you well, Mr. President.”
The House of Representatives recently appropriated nearly $1.6 billion in federal funds to begin wall construction next year, though the bill has to clear the Senate.
President Trump has abandoned his near-constant campaign promise that Mexico would pay for the border wall.