Trump backs off threat to close border, a day before visit to California

Rancher John Ladd drives along the border fence separating his ranch in Cochise County, Arizona, from Mexico on March 2.
Rancher John Ladd drives along the border fence separating his ranch in Cochise County, Arizona, from Mexico on March 2.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

President Trump backed off his threat to close the border with Mexico, one day before he travels to California to highlight what he is calling an immigration crisis.

“We’re going to give them a one-year warning,” Trump said Thursday, referring to Mexico.

Trump said that if the flow of drugs and immigrants continues, he would then impose new tariffs on Mexican goods, targeting automobiles partly manufactured in Mexico.

“If the drugs don’t stop — Mexico can stop ‘em if they want — we’re going to tariff the cars. And if that doesn’t work, we’re going to close the border,” Trump said, although he gave no specific timeline for taking that final step.


Trump insisted in his remarks that his threats would be effective because the Mexican government could be certain he would follow through.

“I will do it; I don’t play games,” Trump said.

But the newest threats are a reversal from Trump’s repeated comments in recent days that he planned to close the border.

On Friday, Trump tweeted that “if Mexico doesn’t immediately stop ALL illegal immigration coming into the United States throug[h] our Southern Border, I will be CLOSING...the Border, or large sections of the Border, next week.”

Top advisors insisted over the weekend that he was not bluffing, with acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney telling ABC News that it would take “something dramatic” to stop him from doing it.

Since then, leading Republicans in Congress as well as many others inside and outside the administration have warned that closing the border even in a limited fashion, which would be impossible to do completely, would cost the American economy billions of dollars and likely shut down factories that employ U.S. workers.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a business lobby that often backs Republicans, warned Trump on Monday that closing the border would “inflict severe economic harm on American families” by crippling the estimated $1.7 billion daily trade between the two countries.

“Even threatening to close the border to legitimate commerce and travel creates a degree of economic uncertainty that risks compromising the very gains in growth and productivity that policies of the Trump administration have helped achieve,” said Neil Bradley, the executive vice president and chief policy officer for the group.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who seldom criticizes Trump in public, told reporters on Capitol Hill earlier this week that closing the border would have “potentially catastrophic economic impact.”

Even as Trump retreated from his threat to close the border, his latest threat — to impose auto tariffs — is also unlikely to take place.

Trump is trying to win approval for a new trade deal with Mexico and Canada to fulfill his campaign promise to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement. Slapping tariffs on Mexican goods would upend the revised NAFTA deal, all but ensuring Mexico’s legislature would reject it.

Some had expected Trump to make an announcement about the border during his visit on Friday, closing off at least some access points to save political face and demonstrate his anger to the Mexican government. Trump, who has previously come to Southern California to inspect prototypes for his proposed border wall, plans to visit Calexico on Friday.

The administration is touting the section of border fence he is visiting as “a newly completed section of the promised border wall.” In fact, Trump has not completed any new sections of wall. The bollard fencing is a reconstruction of a dilapidated barrier that was first built decades ago.

Trump is likely to add to his threats against Mexico for failing to stem the surge of Central American migrants who have been making the journey toward American soil. At the same time as Trump threatened to block the border, he also directed the State Department to cut $450 million that Congress had authorized in aid for Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, which he accused of “doing nothing.” The directive undercut efforts by Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to win cooperation from the three countries.