White House softens 20% border tax idea, calling it part of a 'buffet of options'

White House: Border tax to pay for wall is one idea of many

White House press secretary Sean Spicer clarified earlier remarks he made on Thursday about the Trump administration's position on a possible 20 percent border tax, which received widespread attention in the wake of a dispute between President Donald Trump and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto over plans to construct a border wall between the two countries.

After Spicer floated the idea of a tax to pay for the border wall, he pulled several reporters aside to clarify the administration's position. In an impromptu meeting in his office, Spicer said that his earlier comments aboard Air Force One were not meant to be a specific rollout of a new proposal.

"I just want to be clear: we are not being prescriptive and saying this is the only way. Nor is the rate prospective," Spicer said. "There are several ways this could happen."

Spicer's comments came as the White House is seeking to highlight potential funding mechanisms to cover the expected multibillion dollar cost of a border wall. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday that the Republican-controlled Congress has projected a $12 billion to $15 billion cost for the wall.

In the meeting, Spicer suggested that revenue could be generated through comprehensive tax reform negotiations on Capitol Hill this year.

White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus ducked into the meeting momentarily, and told reporters a border tax is just one of a "buffet of options" to pay for the wall.

Pressed on whether such a tax would increase costs for American consumers, Spicer said there would be offsetting "dynamic" benefits to having a border wall paid for by a border tax.

"Right now they're also paying for the flood of illegal immigration coming in and the cost to US workers from that," he said. "They're paying for increased costs to secure the border and border agents, so it's a cost benefit analysis you need to do."

Asked hypothetically if a company such as Walmart would be forced to pass on any tax increase to its customers in the form of price hikes, Spicer said, "Not if Walmart also recognizes that they can create jobs in the United States and not face that tax."

Spicer emphasized that through all negotiations on paying for the wall, Trump will put American workers first.

Spicer: Easily pay for the wall through border tax alone

Trump has repeatedly insisted that America's southern neighbor will pay for the barrier in some form. Pena Nieto has stressed, though, that his country will not fund the wall.

"I have said it over and over again. Mexico will not pay for any wall," he said in an address to the nation.

Earlier Thursday, Pena Nieto announced that he would not come to Washington next week for a planned summit with Trump. Trump tweeted earlier that if Mexico isn't willing to pay for the wall, the meeting should be canceled.

Trump on Wednesday signed an executive order directing the construction of a physical wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, following through on a key campaign promise. That directive and other executive orders related to immigration strained relations between the president and Pena Nieto.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report