The threat yet again upped the ante in a political row that has led to a partial shutdown of the US government and seems set to dominate the start to the third year of Trump’s presidency.
“We will be forced to close the Southern Border entirely if the Obstructionist Democrats do not give us the money to finish the Wall,” Trump tweeted.
Trump said he would then take US-Mexican relations back to the days before the NAFTA agreement opened free trade across Canada, Mexico and the United States.
That would “bring our car industry back into the United States where it belongs,” he said.
It was not clear how separating the two huge neighbors would work. Bilateral trade totaled an estimated $615.9 billion in 2017, according to US government figures.
Neither did Trump make any mention of the new free trade agreement, known as the USMCA, which he only recently signed with the two neighboring countries to replace NAFTA and which he has repeatedly praised as a huge boost for American commerce.
In Mexico, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador sidestepped Trump’s threat, telling journalists: “We don’t want to be imprudent and we don’t think we should get into this.”
– $5 billion question –
Trump wants $5 billion in funding for a wall along the more than 2,000-mile border, which he says is currently too porous to stop illegal immigration and which he claims has become a magnet for criminals, drugs and even terrorists.
Opponents — especially in the Democratic party but also some in Trump’s Republican party — say that a physical wall is impractical and that the idea is being used as a political tool to whip up xenophobia in Trump’s right-wing voter base.
Both sides have dug in. Democrats refuse to approve funding and the president — who has made hardline immigration policies a centerpiece of his presidency — has retaliated by refusing to sign off on a wider spending bill, leaving some 800,000 federal employees without pay.
Negotiations on lifting that partial government shutdown, perhaps by providing some border security funding, have sputtered out and no new debate is scheduled before next Wednesday.