During his untethered Rose Garden news conference on Friday, President Donald Trump boasted that “some” former presidents privately told him they wish they would’ve built a border wall during their terms in office.
After announcing he’s demanding $5.6 billion for a wall made of steel in return for ending the partial government shutdown, Trump said, “This should have been done by all of the presidents that preceded me and they all know it. Some of them have told me that we should have done it.”
While polling indicates both the government shutdown and Trump’s border wall are broadly unpopular, Trump’s boast was meant to make it appear he is trying accomplishing something important that other presidents were unable to do — even if none of them have publicly agreed with Trump’s insistence that a wall along the southern border is needed. But the claim was extremely dubious on its face.
There are only five ex-presidents that could conceivably have told Trump such a thing — Jimmy Carter, the recently deceased George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. But Carter, Obama, and Clinton are all Democrats who have been publicly critical of Trump, and the Bush family, despite being Republicans, aren’t close with Trump and haven’t expressed support for a wall.
Three days later, it’s now clear that Trump was making stuff up. On Monday, the Carter Center released a statement from Jimmy Carter that says, “I have not discussed the border wall with President Trump, and do not support him on the issue.”
Clarification from former U.S. President Jimmy Carter:
“I have not discussed the border wall with President Trump, and do not support him on the issue.” — Jimmy Carter
— The Carter Center (@CarterCenter) January 7, 2019
Carter was the last ex-president to make clear that he did not in fact express private regrets about not building a border wall to Trump. Politico reported that Clinton and Obama haven’t had conversations with Trump since his inauguration.
In a statement released shortly after the Rose Garden news conference concluded, a spokesperson for George W. Bush, Freddy Ford, said Bush never discussed a border wall with Trump. And not only did George HW Bush not visit the White House after Trump took office, but he described him as a “blowhard” and said “I don’t like him” in a book that was published in late 2017.
The White House quickly tried to spin Trump’s comments as really being about border security broadly, and not specifically the border wall.
According to the New York Times, the White House “did not say afterward which presidents Mr. Trump was referring to, but a senior administration official said he was probably referring to public comments his predecessors have made about the need for border security, not necessarily for a wall specifically.”
But the full context of Trump’s remarks make clear he was talking about a border wall. Here’s a transcript:
So the only way you’re going to stop that is by having a solid steel structure, or concrete structure, whether it’s a wall or some form of very powerful steel. Now the steel is actually more expensive than the concrete, but I think we’re probably talking about steel because I really feel the other side feels better about it, and I can understand what they’re saying. It is more expensive.
We mentioned the price, that we want $5.6 billion very strongly. Because numbers are thrown around — $1.6, $2.1, $2.5 [billion] — this is national security we’re talking about. We’re not talking about games. We’re talking about national security. This should have been done by all of the presidents that preceded me, and they all know it. Some of them have told me that we should have done it.
During an interview on CNN on Sunday, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney tried to downplay Trump’s fabrication by arguing that even if previous presidents hadn’t privately expressed support for the wall to Trump, they should have.
“I don’t know what the presidents mean when they say they weren’t supporting a wall,” Mulvaney said. “George Bush was president in 2006 when they signed a Secure Fence Act, which is what we’re using to build the wall.”