The Cable

Obama: Trump’s Border Wall Plan Is Counterproductive. And Also Wacky and Half-Baked.

The Democratic president also slammed GOP hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz's immigration plans as "Draconian."

LAREDO, TEXAS - JULY 23: Citizens watch as Republican Presidential candidate and business mogul Donald Trump leaves in his plane after his trip to the border on July 23, 2015 in Laredo, Texas. Trump's recent comments, calling some immigrants from Mexico as drug traffickers and rapists, have stirred up reactions on both sides of the aisle. Although fellow Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry has denounced Trump's comments and his campaign in general, U.S. Senator from Texas Ted-Cruz has so far refused to bash his fellow Republican nominee. (Photo by Matthew Busch/Getty Images)
LAREDO, TEXAS - JULY 23: Citizens watch as Republican Presidential candidate and business mogul Donald Trump leaves in his plane after his trip to the border on July 23, 2015 in Laredo, Texas. Trump's recent comments, calling some immigrants from Mexico as drug traffickers and rapists, have stirred up reactions on both sides of the aisle. Although fellow Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry has denounced Trump's comments and his campaign in general, U.S. Senator from Texas Ted-Cruz has so far refused to bash his fellow Republican nominee. (Photo by Matthew Busch/Getty Images)

Donald Trump’s plan to force Mexico to pay for a wall on its northern border is not just counterproductive in that it could send even more immigrants into the United States to flee a cratering economy, President Barack Obama said Tuesday. It’s also “half-baked” and among the “wackier suggestions” for foreign policy he said he’s so far heard from Republican candidates during the 2016 presidential campaign.

With a groan and a half-laugh from the White House briefing podium, Obama, a Democrat, initially looked like he might pass on a question about Trump’s proposal to fund what the GOP front-runner has boasted will be a “beautiful” wall built on the U.S. border with Mexico if he is elected. The billionaire real estate mogul said in a Tuesday memo published in The Washington Post he would bar immigrants in the U.S. from sending billions of dollars in remittances, or money transfers, back to families in Mexico if Mexico City refuses to pay for the wall.

Obama predicted that would set off a chain reaction that would wreck the Mexican economy and, in turn, send even more immigrants to the U.S. seeking jobs. He also described the prohibition of cash transfers as “impractical” because “the notion that we’re going to track every Western Union bit of money that’s being sent to Mexico, you know, good luck with that.”

“This is just one more example of something that is not thought through, and is primarily put forward for political consumption,” Obama told reporters at the end of a press conference where he demanded Congress close tax loopholes for big businesses.

He said the world expects the U.S. to “put forward policies that have been examined, analyzed, are effective; where unintended consequences are taken into account.”

“They don’t expect half-baked notions coming out of the White House,” Obama said. “We can’t afford that.”

Obama maintained he’s “constantly” asked by foreign leaders “about some of the wackier suggestions that are being made” during the campaign for the White House.

That was confirmed Tuesday by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee who just returned from a trip to the Middle East. He said officials in Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey, and Egypt asked him about Trump before turning to any other questions. Graham was an early Trump rival but dropped out of the GOP race in December, lacking much support.

Asked about Trump’s remittances proposal, Graham laughed.

“It’s just like every other proposal he has — it doesn’t withstand scrutiny,” Graham told Foreign Policy. “He’s thought about it for about 30 seconds … he just spews out ideas that don’t work, that’s not practical. There’s a lot of other ways for people to get money back into Mexico.”

Sen. Jeff Flake, a fellow Republican from the border state of Arizona, said the remittances proposal was just another example of Trump’s “unseriousness.”

“The notion that you can do that is just farcical,” Flake told FP. He said remittances from Arizona and across the country are “significant” and from immigrants who are in the U.S. both legally and illegally.

“How do you go about that and try and decipher this or that?” Flake asked.  “…The country of Mexico depends on remittances to help its economy. They have every right to.”

Obama’s derision was not just reserved for Trump: He said GOP Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas also has put forward “Draconian” plans to crack down on immigration, including building a wall and adopting other border security measures.

In 2014, Obama signed an executive order allowing an estimated 5 million undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States after passing background checks and registering with authorities. His order was challenged by 26 states, led by Texas, and is under Supreme Court review.

Graham has grudgingly endorsed Cruz, whom he said should work to reform the immigration system instead of following Trump’s plans. “The bottom line here is Donald Trump on the foreign policy front is disjointed, ill-conceived … He’s a complete disaster,” Graham said.

Photo credit: MATTHEW BUSCH /Getty

Lara Jakes is the deputy managing editor of news for Foreign Policy magazine and a former war correspondent, Baghdad bureau chief and award-winning senior national security and diplomatic writer for The Associated Press. She's a 1995 graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism and lives in Alexandria, Va., with her husband. @larajakesFP

Molly O’Toole is a senior reporter at Foreign Policy, covering immigration, refugees, and national security. She was FP’s sole 2016 presidential campaign reporter, on the trail from New Hampshire to Nevada. Previously, she covered the politics of national security for Atlantic Media’s Defense One, where she reported from Congress, the White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department. Before that, she was a news editor at the Huffington Post. Molly has also reported on national and international politics for Reuters, the Nation, The Associated Press, and Newsweek International, among others, from Washington, New York, Mexico City, and London. She received her dual master’s degree in journalism and international relations from New York University and her bachelor’s from Cornell University and in 2016 was a grant recipient of the International Women’s Media Foundation. She will always be a Californian. @mollymotoole

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