The meeting between Donald Trump and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto was announced just hours beforehand, but will be guided by an agenda hammered out by both sides after five days of discussions, a Trump campaign official said.
It also included an agreement to issue joint statements after the meeting, according to the official and the Mexico Presidency’s Office.
“There have been intense, around-the-clock discussions between both parties since last Friday to establish an agenda for discussion and make sure it is a fruitful use of both leaders’s time,” the Trump official said.
That agenda will include economics, jobs, Mexican drug cartels, the flow of drugs, cash and arms, and the positioning of the Western hemisphere toward Asia, including the challenges that a rising China poses to both Mexico and the United States, the official said. There will also be a discussion about both countries’ national sovereignty.
The meeting with Peña Nieto,”is a get-to-know you, but it’s also a frank discussion of what the issues are. Both parties have an agreed-upon agenda,” the official said, who added that Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, was instrumental to those discussions.
The trip shines a spotlight on the Republican nominee’s fraught relationship with the Mexican leader and with U.S. voters of Mexican ancestry set to play an influential role in the November election.
Trump said when he announced his bid last year that Mexico sends “rapists” to America. Peña Nieto says Mexico won’t pay for a U.S. border wall, like Trump says it will, and has likened the billionaire’s rhetoric to that of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.
The trip may help sharpen the focus on immigration policies Trump is set to speak about later Wednesday in Arizona after he and his allies sent mixed signals about whether he is softening his positions for general-election voters. Meeting with a head of state may also help Trump appear more presidential to some.
Peña Nieto last Friday sent invitations to both the Trump and Hillary Clinton campaigns for the candidates to meet with him, his office said in an e-mailed response to questions. Peña Nieto said Tuesday on Twitter that he had invited the U.S. candidates to talk about the bilateral relationship with Mexico, and added that he believes in dialogue to promote the interests of Mexico in the world as well as to protect Mexicans wherever they are.
A spokeswoman for Clinton, the Democratic nominee and a former secretary of state under President Barack Obama, said the trip shouldn’t distract from Trump’s policies or his rhetoric about immigrants.
“From the first days of his campaign, Donald Trump has painted Mexicans as ‘rapists’ and criminals and has promised to deport 16 million people, including children and U.S. citizens,” Jennifer Palmieri said in a statement. “What ultimately matters is what Donald Trump says to voters in Arizona, not Mexico, and whether he remains committed to the splitting up of families and deportation of millions.”
Obama spokesman Josh Earnest declined to comment on Trump’s trip other than to tell reporters traveling with the president to Asia for a summit, “The White House is not offering any advice to the Trump campaign.”
Peña Nieto visited Obama in Washington in July the day after Trump spoke at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. That same month, the Mexican leader told CNN his country would not put up the border-wall cash.
Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, an immigration hardliner who serves as a top adviser to Trump, and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani will accompany Trump on the trip, a campaign official said. A person close to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a surrogate and adviser to Trump who is leading his White House transition planning, said the governor was involved in Trump’s decision to make the trip.
The trip was a go unless the Secret Service nixed it for safety reasons, a campaign aide said.
Former President Vicente Fox of Mexico blasted Trump and Peña Nieto’s move.
“I don’t understand why President Peña has offered this opportunity,” Fox said on CNN, calling Trump “not welcome” and disliked in the country. “I think it’s nothing more than a political stunt.”
Fox said Trump was “using President Peña to boost his sinking poll numbers” and that Peña Nieto “is taking an enormous political risk by hosting Trump.”
“If he’s perceived as going soft on Trump, it will hurt him greatly,” Fox said. “He would even be considered like a traitor.”
Trump fired back on Twitter that Fox, “who is railing against my visit to Mexico today, also invited me when he apologized for using the ‘f bomb.’” Fox in May said Trump should be invited to learn about the “real Mexico” and apologized for saying Mexico wouldn’t pay for the “f—ing wall.”
In the Arizona speech, Trump is expected to lay out his proposals on immigration after weeks of conflicting reports about whether he is moderating on the issue. Ahead of the trip, an adviser reaffirmed Trump’s promise to build a wall on the border and crack down on illegal immigration.
“Throughout his presidential campaign, Donald J. Trump has been consistent in his calls to end illegal immigration by building a wall on our southern border,” said Tana Goertz in a statement. “He is the only candidate in this race who will stop illegal immigration, secure our border, end sanctuary cities, enforce our existing laws and stop American employers from hiring illegal workers. These reforms will not only put an end to our illegal immigration epidemic—they will promote safe communities and good-paying jobs that will make America great again.”
Trump, who trails Clinton by about 5 percentage points in a head-to-head matchup in the RealClearPolitics national poll average, is looking to win over conservative Hispanics as well as independent voters who traditionally favor a path to citizenship for undocumented workers already in the U.S. Clinton’s immigration proposals include expanding deportation relief and work permits to the parents of young undocumented immigrants.
Some Mexican analysts said they saw Wednesday’s meeting as a potential boost for the administration.
“Peña Nieto will look like more of a statesman and diplomat by receiving him than by denying the possibility of a meeting,” said Alejandro Schtulmann, president of Mexico City-based political-risk advisory and consulting firm Empra. “For the Mexican government, as long as the meeting takes place in Mexico, it will be a positive development. If Peña Nieto were to travel to the U.S. for it, people would see him as a sellout. If Trump comes to Mexico’s, he’s trying to mend fences.”
Others remained skeptical that hosting Trump is a good idea.
“I think it’s a highly risky thing which can backfire very easily on Peña Nieto. It can strengthen Trump if it’s run correctly by the Trump campaign. I don’t see what advantage Peña Nieto or Mexico get out of it,” said Andres Rozental, a former Mexico deputy foreign minister under President Carlos Salinas.
Trump is betting that, if elected president, he will still hold the leverage needed to broker a deal with Mexico.
“The United States has borne the extraordinary daily cost of this criminal activity, including the cost of trials and incarcerations. Not to mention the even greater human cost. We have the moral high ground here, and all the leverage,” Trump’s website says.
Trump was in Washington state Tuesday night and was booked for fundraisers in California on Wednesday morning and his immigration speech in Arizona on Wednesday night.