WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump doubled down Tuesday on his threat to close the U.S.-Mexico border, saying that, while “it will have a negative effect on the economy,” he deemed “security is most important.”
Trump, speaking to reporters at the White House before a meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, defended his calls to shut the border to curb illegal crossings and he stood by his decision to pull nearly $500 million in aid from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala despite warnings from some foreign policy analysts who contend the move could drive more migrants to flee their impoverished conditions for the United States.
Trump told reporters last Friday he would shut the border down if Mexico did not do more to stop the flow of migrants entering illegally. The announcement sparked criticism from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, and business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who argue that shutting the border would hurt the economy.
Asked about the economic concerns over closing the border, Trump told reporters Tuesday: “Sure, it’s going to have a negative impact on the economy … but to me, trading is very important, the borders are very important, but security is most important.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, speaking to reporters Tuesday outside the West Wing, said the White House Council of Economic Advisers has started to examine the economic impact of closing the border.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in a statement Monday, said the United States and Mexico exchange more than $1.7 billion in goods and services each day.
Sanders said closing the border was not the president’s “first choice,” adding that Trump “is not working on a specific timeline” to make a decision on the closure.
Trump, asked about his decision to cut funding from the three Central American nations, accused their governments of organizing the caravans of migrants heading to the United States.
“They don’t do anything for us," Trump said.
The president, who has often criticized the North Atlantic Treaty Organization — arguing that not all of its member nations contribute their fair share to the military alliance — offered some praise on Tuesday, but continued to call on member states to contribute at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product to defense spending.
"We're paying for a big proportion of NATO, which basically is protecting Europe. So we're protecting Europe. At the same time, they're taking advantage of us on trade, so they have the best of all worlds,” Trump said later, adding that he does not believe Germany is “paying their fair share."
Stoltenberg, meeting with U.S. officials this week to mark the 70th anniversary of NATO, credited Trump with “having a strong message” on defense spending, “and your message has been having an impact."
“NATO is a strong alliance, but to remain a strong alliance we have to be fair. And therefore allies have to invest more in defense,” said Stoltenberg, who is scheduled to address a joint session of Congress on Wednesday.