Former President Donald Trump attempted to rewrite history in a speech in Iowa on Sunday, falsely claiming he had campaigned for the presidency in 2016 on a promise that Mexico would pay for “a piece” of his border wall.
Trump, now running again for the Republican presidential nomination, has been criticized by rival candidates such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for breaking his signature campaign promise to get Mexico to pay for the wall. The wall was paid for by Americans; the Trump administration directed more than $16 billion in federal money toward the project.
In a Sunday speech in Iowa, Trump argued that he “got much more money” than Mexico paying for the wall itself, since Mexico agreed during his presidency to deploy thousands of troops to assist in thwarting migrants heading toward the US. But then, while attacking his critics, Trump inaccurately described his pre-presidency pledges about how the wall itself would be funded.
Trump said: “So with all those losers out there that say – ‘Trump never got the –’ you remember, I used to say, ‘Mexico will pay for the piece of the wall.’”
He continued: “I’ll say, ‘What’s gonna happen if they [Mexico] fight,’ I say, ‘The wall gets higher.’ We all had a lot of fun. But I said, ‘Mexico will pay, for a piece of the wall.’ Well, there was no legal instrument to do that.”
Facts First: Trump’s claim is false. During his 2016 campaign, Trump promised over and over again in his public remarks, with no qualifications, that Mexico would pay for the entire wall.
A Trump campaign spokesperson did not respond to a Sunday request from CNN to identify any examples from the 2016 election of Trump pledging that Mexico would pay for “a piece” of the wall. A CNN search of Factba.se, the most comprehensive public database of Trump’s remarks from the 2016 election, turned up no examples of him doing so.
A signature promise Trump made over and over again
Trump’s pledge that Mexico would pay for the whole wall, period, was one of the staples of his raucous campaign rallies in 2015 and 2016. The pledge often involved a call-and-response exchange in which Trump would promise to build the wall and ask the crowd who was going to pay for it; the crowd would shout “Mexico!” and Trump would tell them they were correct.
“We will build the wall, believe me. And who is going to pay for the wall?” Trump asked in a March 2016 rally speech in Michigan; after the crowd shouted “Mexico,” Trump said, “100%, folks. One hundred – I don’t mean like…99.2%, I mean 100%.” He scoffed at “lightweights” who said he couldn’t get Mexico to pay for the wall, repeating, “I said 100% – not 99%. I said 100%.”
Trump made similar remarks at numerous other events during the Republican presidential primary in 2015 and early 2016 and during the general election later in 2016.
For example, he said in a speech in Massachusetts in November 2015: “So we’re gonna build the wall. It’s gonna be a great wall, and it’s gonna be paid for by Mexico. Believe me – 100%, 100%. We’re not paying for it. Mexico is paying for it. Believe me.” He said in a speech in Florida in August 2016: “We’re gonna build the wall and Mexico is going to pay for the wall, 100%.”
Even when Trump tweaked his rhetoric at one point late in the campaign, claiming that Mexico would reimburse the US for the wall, he declared it would be a complete reimbursement. He said in a speech in Pennsylvania in October 2016: “Remember, I said Mexico is paying for the wall – with the full understanding that the country of Mexico will be reimbursing the United States for the full cost of such a wall. OK? We’re gonna have the wall. Mexico is gonna pay for the wall.”
Trump has made various other false claims about how the wall was funded as he has tried to combat criticism of his failure to keep that campaign promise. In early 2020, he claimed that “redemption money” from undocumented immigrants was paying for the wall, which wasn’t true even if he was talking about remittance payments as some experts guessed. Later in 2020, he claimed that some sort of “border tax” was about to start paying for the project, though that was baseless too.
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