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Tweaking an old lie, Trump insists Mexico is already paying for a wall

Trump's original lie: "Mexico will pay for the wall." Trump's new lie: "Mexico is already paying for the wall."
President Donald Trump reviews border wall prototypes, Tuesday, March 13, 2018, in San Diego.
President Donald Trump reviews border wall prototypes, Tuesday, March 13, 2018, in San Diego.

Donald Trump and his campaign team didn't invest too much energy into a policy platform in 2016, but they were willing to issue a brief document explaining how and why Mexico would pay for a giant border wall. The document said it would be "an easy decision" for Mexican officials to make: our neighbors to the south would agree to a "one-time payment" of between $5 billion and $10 billion to the United States, and the GOP administration would apply the expenditure to a wall.

This position paper, incidentally, is still publicly available on Trump's website.

The idea that Mexico would pay for a wall remained the Republican's position for much of his presidency, though over the last month or so, Trump's posture shifted. In early December, the president said that instead of Mexicans paying for the wall, the wall would pay for itself through incredible savings, none of which exist in reality.

Soon after, his position shifted again. Instead of saying Mexico will pay for a wall, Trump decided that Mexico is already paying for a wall. Here, for example, was his pitch yesterday via Twitter:

"Mexico is paying for the Wall through the new USMCA Trade Deal. Much of the Wall has already been fully renovated or built. We have done a lot of work."

As arguments go, this is a mess. The idea that "much" of the wall has already been built is plainly wrong, but just as important, it raises the question of why Trump has shut down the government in order to build a structure that, at least in his mind, largely already exists.

But the real humor comes when we consider the president's assertion that Mexico is "paying for the wall" through the recently tweaked NAFTA.

Part of the problem with this is that the tweaked trade deal will not be -- and wasn't even designed to be -- a significant source of new revenue. But compounding the problem is that Congress still needs to approve the new agreement, and that hasn't happened. In fact, there's a real question as to whether lawmakers will sign off on the deal at all.

In other words, Trump hopes to convince lawmakers to give him billions of taxpayer dollars for an unnecessary border wall by pointing to non-existent revenue from a trade policy that does not yet, and may never, exist.

Is it any wonder negotiations aren't going well?