A top White House adviser indicated Tuesday afternoon that the administration might try to find a way to keep goods moving across the US-Mexico border – just before President Donald Trump told reporters that he remains “totally prepared” to follow through on his threat to shut down all traffic over undocumented immigration.
The apparent contradiction stood out on a day of wild moves by the Trump administration, which is navigating the border crisis as Trump is fueling a renewed debate on the future of American health care with his support for a legal challenge against Obamacare.
Trump has threatened to close the border this week as a way to stem illegal immigration. But if a shutdown blocks trade, too, it would disrupt the daily flow of $1.7 billion of goods to store shelves and factory floors.
During a meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, the President acknowledged that a border shutdown would have a negative impact on the US economy – but added that “security, to me, is more important than trade.”
Meanwhile, National Economic Council director Larry Kudlow said in a CNBC interview that there could be a way to close the border to immigration without hurting the economy.
“We’re watching it and looking for ways to allow the freight passage – some people call it truck roads,” Kudlow said.
“There are ways you can do that which would ameliorate the breakdown in supply chains,” he added.
US supply chains are highly integrated with Mexico. One economist predicted this week that the entire US auto industry would shut down if the President closes the border, because every US auto plant depends on parts made in Mexico.
The National Association of Manufacturers also pushed back against Trump’s proposal, arguing that 1 million America jobs would be at risk should the border close.
Farmers, who ship $13.7 million of produce a day through one Arizona port, are also concerned. Mexico is the biggest export market for dairy farmers, and a top destination for soybeans and corn.
On a call with reporters Tuesday, officials from the US Chamber of Commerce expressed skepticism that the administration could close some ports of entry to immigration while keeping other routes open to commerce.
“There would be serious questions about how that would be implemented, and if it were, it would still have negative economic consequences for communities along the border,” said Neil Bradley, the Chamber’s chief policy officer.
He said that businesses in border communities depend on workers, shoppers and tourists crossing the border.
Kudlow said he supported the President’s effort to stem illegal immigration.
“The question is, can we deal with that and not have economic damage. I think the answer is we can, and people are looking at different options, particularly if you can keep those freight lanes, truck lanes open – that’s probably the nub of it,” he said.
The President is still weighing the decision, despite being privately warned by aides about the consequences of shutting down the border. One administration official described the potential effects as “catastrophic” and “a whole world of hurt.”
CNN’s Kate Trafecante and Nikki Carajval contributed to this story.