Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL) said Thursday that “no one could really believe that Mexicans were going to pay for a wall” and that President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico was a “metaphor for border security.”
The comments came in response to a transcript published by the Washington Post of a call between Trump and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, in which the Mexican leader maintained there was no way Mexico would pay for the wall, contradicting Trump’s endless campaign promises to Americans that the country would. Trump told Peña Nieto in the call that the issue of payment “is the least important thing,” but that, politically, it “might be the most important.”
“What do you make of that?” CNN’s Poppy Harlow asked Rooney, after referencing a passage in the transcript in which Trump told Peña Nieto he cannot talk about not paying for the wall to the press.
“It’s another bit of campaign rhetoric,” Rooney responded. “It’s highly unusual. But I don’t think anyone during the campaign seriously thought that Mexico would pay for that wall, even though we desperately believed in the wall as a metaphor for border security.”
CNN’s John Berman pointed out that Trump promised Mexico would pay for the wall “at every rally he gave.”
“You don’t think that was a campaign promise?” Berman asked.
“These campaigns are full of all kinds of comments: promises, commitments, expressions, vitriolic diatribe. And once the campaign is over, it’s time to move on to governing,” Rooney said.
Harlow pointed out that Trump had brought up Mexico paying for the wall even after the election. She asked if Rooney was comfortable with Trump misleading the public about his discussion with Peña Nieto.
“I think it would have been better had he not distracted the discussion of border security by bringing up who is going to pay for the wall and what kind of wall it would be,” Rooney said. “We have a lot of ways that we can strengthen our border, and physical barriers are one, technology is another. I think we need to be getting about doing that.”
“Knowing what you know from the transcript, which the White House is not disputing openly, do you think he was straight and honest with the American people?” Harlow asked.
“I don’t think anyone really thought that the Mexicans were going to pay for a wall,” Rooney said. “I mean, regardless of a boisterous campaign or post-campaign comment. These politicians — these professional politicians make comments all the time. President Trump was not a professional politician, so maybe he made even some more comments that might be disputed later.”
“But the bottom line is no one could really believe that Mexicans were going to pay for a wall,” he continued. “And no one would believe that we don’t need to secure our border. So those are two asymmetrical concepts there.”
Though Rooney never called for Mexico to pay for a border wall during his own run for Congress in 2016, his first such campaign, the big-name GOP donor and one-time ambassador to the Holy See did advocate strongly for a border wall.
One of his advertisements was literally called “Wall.” In it, he bragged about his experience in the construction industry: “So I know a thing or two about building walls.”
“In Congress, I’ll fight to build a big one on our southern border,” he said.
In March, however, according to the Naples Daily News, Rooney said at a town hall that he didn’t know how the U.S. would build a border wall, or if it was possible.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said. “That’s above my pay grade.”
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