International desk – US President Donald Trump has vowed to start building a wall on the Mexican border “soon, way ahead of schedule”, in a speech at a conservative event.
Addressing the Conservative Political Action Congress (CPAC), he vowed to always put American citizens first and build a “great, great border wall”.
He also promised to focus on “getting bad people out of this country”.
Trump was greeted by chants of “USA, USA, USA!” as he addressed the annual forum in Maryland.
“We’re building the wall,” he said. “In fact it’s going to start very soon. Way ahead of schedule. It’s way, way, way ahead of schedule.”
His comments come a day after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly met their Mexican counterparts in Mexico City.
Neither made any mention of the wall in Thursday’s news conference after their closed-door meetings.
The wall could cost up to $21.5bn (£17.2bn), according to Reuters, citing a Department of Homeland Security internal report – much higher than Trump’s estimated price tag of $12bn.
On Thursday senior White House strategist Steve Bannon told the crowd at CPAC that Donald Trump wasn’t moderating his views or backing down from his controversial campaign promises. On Friday the president took the stage and proved his top adviser right.
In a wide-ranging speech to a crowd of right-wing activists and students, Trump continued his efforts to reshape the Republican Party in his own image. He condemned trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Nafta, which previously had widespread conservative support, to cheers. He promised once again to build the Mexican border wall – ahead of schedule, no less – and crack down on illegal immigration, just a few years after many in his party supported comprehensive immigration reform.
In a conference hall that contained more than a few career political operatives and professional Washington lobbyists, he condemned a “broken” political system full of “blood-sucking consultants” who peddle government influence.
Two years ago Trump’s presence at CPAC was treated as an afterthought and a reality television joke. A year ago he decided to skip the event entirely. On Friday morning he arrived in a presidential motorcade. It’s a brave new world for conservatives and their movement.
Trump, who has insisted Mexico would later pay for the wall, needs Congressional approval for funding before moving forward with construction.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto has said he would not finance Trump’s wall.
On Friday, President Trump also said he was working on a plan to “totally obliterate” the so-called Islamic State.
“Foreign terrorists will not be able to strike America if they can’t get in to America,” he said.
Trump continued that he “took a lot of heat on Sweden”, referring to his erroneous claim that an attack had recently happened there.
He told the crowd: “I love Sweden… but the people over there understand I’m right.”
The president then referred to terrorist attacks in France before telling an anecdote about a friend who used to love travelling to Paris every year, but has stopped because “Paris is no longer Paris”.
One of the loudest rounds of applause came when he emphasised his “America First” outlook.
“Global co-operation, dealing with other countries, getting along with other countries is good,” he said. “It’s very important.
“But there’s no such thing as a global anthem, a global currency or a global flag.
“This is the United States of America that I’m representing. I’m not representing the globe; I’m representing your country.”
He devoted the first 13 minutes of his speech to criticising the media and its use of unnamed sources, without saying which stories he was unhappy with.
Relations between the White House and the media hit a new low for his presidency a few hours later.
Reporters from the BBC, The New York Times, CNN and other outlets were excluded from a briefing by the White House press secretary Sean Spicer. No reason was given, but Associated Press and Time magazine boycotted the so-called gaggle in protest.
Trump is the first president to address the group during his first year in office since Ronald Reagan in 1981, according to American Conservative Union chairman Matt Schlapp.