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Trump on closing the US-Mexico border: 'Security is more important to me than trade'

Key Points
  • President Donald Trump on Tuesday reiterated his threat to shut down the U.S.-Mexico border, insisting that any economic damage from the move would be overshadowed by the benefits of greater security.
  • "Let me just give you a little secret," Trump said at the White House. "Security is more important to me than trade. So we're going to have a slower border or a closed border."
  • Trump's remarks came as the top Republican in Congress, the nation's most influential business lobby, and even the president's own top economic advisor all cautioned that the impact on American businesses of closing the massive U.S.-Mexico border could be disastrous.
President Donald Trump speaks as he meets with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, April 2, 2019, in Washington.
Evan Vucci | AP

President Donald Trump on Tuesday reiterated his threat to shut down the U.S.-Mexico border, insisting that any economic damage from the move would be overshadowed by the benefits of greater security.

Asked at the White House whether shutting the border would hurt the U.S. economy, Trump replied, "Sure, it will have a negative effect on the economy," noting that Mexico is "a very big trading partner."

"Trading is very important. The borders are very important. But security is what is the most important," Trump said at a joint appearance with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

"All you hear me talking about is trade, but let me just give you a little secret," Trump continued. "Security is more important to me than trade. So we're going to have a slower border or a closed border."

Trump's remarks came as the top Republican in Congress, the nation's most influential business lobby, and even Trump's own top economic advisor all cautioned that the impact on American businesses of closing the massive U.S.-Mexico border could be disastrous.

"Closing down the border would have potentially catastrophic economic impact on our country," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters Tuesday. "I would hope we would not be doing that sort of thing."

Neil Bradley, chief policy officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, went a step further, warning in a statement Monday that "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."

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Kudlow: Trump looking at options to keep truck roads open if US-Mexico border closes

Bradley also noted that U.S. trade with Mexico "exceeds $1.7 billion daily, and nearly half a million people legally cross the southern border every day as workers, students, shoppers, and tourists."

Inside the White House, top officials were looking for ways to limit the potential economic damage that would result if Trump made good on his threat to close the border, according to Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council.

Among them, Kudlow said, was the possibility of allowing trucks carrying freight to cross the border even if it were sealed. He cautioned that the president has not made any final decisions.

"We are watching it and looking for ways to allow the freight passage, some people call it truck roads, and there are ways you can do that which would ameliorate the breakdown in supply chains," Kudlow told CNBC's Sara Eisen on Tuesday.

Kudlow, who until joining the Trump administration was a CNBC contributor, said he supported Trump's immigration policies "fully."

"The question is: Can we deal with that, and not have economic damage? And I think the answer is: We can, and people are looking at different options," he said. "Particularly if you can keep those freight lanes, truck lanes, open, that's probably the nub of it."

It was unclear Tuesday what Trump's next move would be. At several points during the day, the president demanded both that Mexico completely stem the flow of undocumented migrants crossing the border, and that Congress "meet quickly and make a deal ... to get rid of chain migration ... get rid of catch and release," end the visa lottery and "do something about asylum."

In the Oval Office, Trump also claimed that "Mexico is now stopping people people coming in through Mexico," although he did not say what specific actions Mexico was taking. "Let's see if they keep doing that," he said.

"Now, if they don't, or if we don't make a deal with Congress," Trump said, "the border's going to be closed."