ZEKE MILLER and JONATHAN LEMIRE | THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump headed to California on Friday in a renewed push to make border security a central campaign issue for his 2020 re-election.
Trump, talking to reporters as he left the White House to head out west, denied that he changed his mind about shutting down the border with Mexico, a threat he backed off on Thursday. Trump said he reversed course because he saw Mexico get tougher in stopping illegal immigrants from moving north.
“Mexico has been absolutely terrific for the last four days,” the president claimed, as he pushed Congress to act. “I never changed my mind at all. I may shut it down at some point.”
Though Trump, who has pulled a series of about-faces in recent days, walked away from this threat to close the border, he still intends to highlight conditions at the boundary with Mexico. He was heading to the Southern California town of Calexico to meet with local law enforcement officials and to tour a section of recently rebuilt fencing he cites as the answer to stop a surge of migrant families coming to the U.S. in recent months.
“I’m heading to the border. We’re building a lot of wall. We’re going to show you a section,” Trump said. “And a lot of things are happening. A lot of very positive things are happening.”
The fence that Trump is touring is a two-mile section that was a long-planned replacement for an older barrier, rather than new wall. The White House says the barrier is marked with a plaque bearing Trump’s name and those of top homeland security officials.
Trump took to Twitter earlier Friday to claim that he could revive his threat to shut the border, a move that fellow Republicans warned would have a devastating economic impact.
“If for any reason Mexico stops apprehending and bringing the illegals back to where they came from, the U.S. will be forced to Tariff at 25% all cars made in Mexico and shipped over the Border to us. If that doesn’t work, which it will, I will close the Border,” Trump tweeted, before invoking the new, but not-yet-approved trade policy. “This will supersede USMCA.”
The southern border is nearly 2,000 miles long and already has about 650 miles of different types of barriers, including short vehicle barricades and tall, steel fences that go up to 30 feet high. Most of the fencing was built during the administration of George W. Bush, and there have been updates and maintenance throughout other administrations.
Trump has yet to complete any new mileage of fencing or other barriers anywhere on the border. His administration has only replaced existing fencing, including the section he is touring Friday. Construction for that small chunk of fencing cost about $18 million, began in February 2018 and was completed in October. Plans to replace that fence date back to 2009, during the beginning of President Barack Obama’s tenure.
Trump walked away from his border closure threat just days after he also abruptly postponed Republican efforts to work on a replacement for the Affordable Care Act.
After the border visit, Trump was slated to travel to Los Angeles, where he was set to hold a pair of fundraisers in the deep-blue city. He was then poised to travel to Las Vegas for another re-election fundraiser and an address to the Republican Jewish Coalition, which is backed by GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson.
Lemire reported from New York. Associated Press writer Jill Colvin contributed reporting from Washington.