President Donald Trump insisted Thursday that his views on a border wall with Mexico have not evolved, pushing back against his own chief of staff’s comments to lawmakers.
The president said on Twitter: “The Wall is the Wall, it has never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived of it.”
Some Democrats who met with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly on Wednesday say Kelly told them parts of the border don’t need a wall — and that Trump didn’t know that when making campaign promises.
The president tweeted Thursday that some of the wall will be “see through,” and he wrote that the wall was never supposed to be built where there are natural barriers. He added that it “will be paid for, directly or indirectly, or through longer-term reimbursement, by Mexico, which has a ridiculous $71 billion dollar trade surplus with the U.S.”
CoS Kelly’s assertion that President Trump’s views on immigration had evolved came as lawmakers try to reach accord on protecting hundreds of thousands of young immigrants from deportation, a push the White House and Republicans say they would back, if it’s coupled with tough border security measures and other restrictions.
Chief of Staff Kelly made the remarks about the president and the wall Wednesday at a closed-door meeting with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, participants said, and he made similar comments later on Fox News Channel.
John Kelly said on Fox that he told the caucus that “they all say things during the course of campaigns that may or may not be fully informed.” He said Trump has “very definitely changed his attitude” toward protecting the young immigrants, “and even the wall, once we briefed him.”
“So he has evolved in the way he’s looked at things,” Kelly said. “Campaign to governing are two different things and this president has been very, very flexible in terms of what is within the realms of the possible.”
Trump’s tweets on Thursday were hardly the first time his words have been in conflict with comments by a senior aide. Among other clashes, he has repeatedly undercut Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Some lawmakers who met with John Kelly Wednesday recounted his remarks. “He specifically said that there’s some areas of the border that didn’t need the wall, and that the president didn’t know that when he was making his campaign promises,” Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., said in a brief interview.
Another lawmaker, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., said Kelly told them that “there were statements made about the wall that were not informed statements. In other words, I’ve informed the president of what it takes to build a wall, so here’s how we’re going to do it. That’s what I understood, and all of that was helpful.”
Many Democrats have said that without an immigration deal in sight, they’ll vote against a Republican bill preventing a weekend government shutdown. Congressional passage must come by Friday to prevent an election-year shutdown of federal agencies that could be damaging to both parties.
Democrats’ votes are needed to advance the stopgap measure through the Senate. It’s even unclear whether GOP leaders have nailed down enough votes to prevail in the House, where conservatives and strong boosters of the Pentagon have been unhappy.
Conservative leader Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., said he wants GOP leaders to add additional defense money. But he said he was pessimistic that leaders would grant other conservative-backed ideas, such as the promise of a vote on a more conservative immigration bill authored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert Goodlatte, R-Va.