The wall's big week: Trump orders border barrier, as he and GOP float payment ideas

On Wednesday, Trump ordered the construction of a wall on the border, one of his central campaign promises. Meanwhile, GOP leaders said they plan to introduce legislation providing up to $15 billion to fund it, while other Republicans continue to protest the idea.

Julie Watson/ AP
People look out towards where border structure separates San Diego, right, from Tijuana, Mexico, left, Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017. President Donald Trump moved aggressively to tighten the nation's immigration controls Wednesday, signing executive actions to jumpstart construction of his promised U.S.-Mexico border wall and cut federal grants for immigrant-protecting "sanctuary cities."

On June 16, 2015, Donald Trump launched his presidential campaign with a promise: "I will build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall."

In the past two days, that wall drew closer to reality. But Mexico doesn't sound any more likely to pay for it.

Mr. Trump echoed the campaign promise Wednesday with an executive order stating that it "is the policy of the executive branch to ... secure the southern border of the United States through the immediate construction of a physical wall on the southern border."

Some of Trump’s fellow Republicans are making moves to supply the funds. On Thursday, House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, both at a GOP retreat in Philadelphia, said during a news conference that they plan to introduce legislation this year providing $12 billion to $15 billion for the wall's construction.

But not all GOP lawmakers agree. Sen. John McCain of Arizona said that he is "not inclined to support it." Stronger criticism came from Rep. Will Hurd of Texas, whose district shares an 800-mile border with Mexico.

"Building a wall is the most expensive and least effective way to secure the border," he said in a statement. "Big Bend National Park and many areas in my district are perfect examples of where a wall is unnecessary and would negatively impact the environment, private property rights, and economy."

Neither Representative Ryan nor Senator McConnell specified where the funds could come from, but Ryan assured reporters that, "if we’re going to be spending on things like infrastructure, we’re going to find the fiscal space to pay for that."

For his part, Trump continues to emphasize that "we will be, in a form, reimbursed by Mexico" for the construction of the wall, as he said in an interview Wednesday with ABC’s David Muir.

But Mexico, for one, doesn't seem to agree. Early Thursday, Trump tweeted that, if Mexico was unwilling to pay for the wall, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto should not attend a planned meeting with Trump next week. Mr. Peña Nieto, who has repeatedly stated that Mexico will not fund the wall, promptly cancelled.

Many of Mexico’s leaders are taking Trump’s statements with a grain of salt. "I think that, in general, diplomacy is not conducted via Twitter," the country’s finance secretary, José Antonio Meade, told Radio Formula, as reported by the Associated Press.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters Thursday that the Trump administration would seek to impose a 20 percent tax on Mexican imports to fund the wall's construction – a proposal that would require Congressional approval. Later in the day, however, after some Republicans criticized the idea, Mr. Spicer sought to rescind his statement, recasting the 20 percent tariff as among several options currently being considered.

"Border security yes, tariffs no," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina wrote in a tweet. "Mexico is 3rd largest trading partner. Any tariff we can levy they can levy. Huge barrier to econ growth."

The ongoing disagreement between the US and Mexico has made many observers underscore the importance of binational cooperation that they say will be needed to properly address migration, drug violence, and other issues facing the two neighbors.

"To have good trade and relations between the two countries ... you have to have coordination and collaboration," Luis Ribera, the director of the Center for North American Studies at Texas A&M University in College Station, told The Christian Science Monitor earlier this week.

But there has been a "cooling off" of these ties since the election, he added. "For sure the wall is putting a chill on relations."

"The question isn't really 'Will cooperation continue? – much, if not most, of it can and will," Shannon O’Neil, the senior fellow for Latin America Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, told the Monitor last week, after drug kingpin Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman was extradited to the United States. "The question is will it be done well, or will the bitter words and hard feelings erode these deep ties."

This report contains material from Reuters and the Associated Press.

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