Hours before he is slated to make a major policy speech on immigration Wednesday in Phoenix, Donald Trump is making a bold move — he will be meeting with Mexico’s president.
He tweeted the news late Tuesday night:
“I have accepted the invitation of President Enrique Peña Nieto, of Mexico, and look very much forward to meeting him tomorrow.”
The Washington Post first reported that Trump was considering the move and could be flying to Mexico City to meet with Peña Nieto:
“Mexican President Enrique ‘Peña Nieto invited both Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton to visit Mexico last Friday, his office said in a statement provided to The Washington Post on Tuesday night. Although no meetings have been confirmed, the statement said, both campaigns received the invitations ‘on good terms.’ Trump, sensing an opportunity, decided over the weekend to accept the invitation and push for a visit this week, according to the people familiar with the discussions.’ “
Peña Nieto’s office tweeted the following, translated into English:
“Mr. Donald Trump has accepted the invitation to meet tomorrow in private with President Peña Nieto.”
Peña Nieto’s office told CNN earlier Tuesday night that the Mexican president sent invitations to both campaigns last Friday, “which were well received by both of the teams’ campaigns.”
Trump may hope the move makes him look strong and presidential, laying out his immigration plan directly to the Mexican president before addressing an American audience.
But the move also carries tremendous risk. Peña Nieto has been hotly critical of Trump’s rhetoric, likening him to Mussolini and Hitler earlier this year. What’s more, Peña Nieto has domestic politics to manage. His approval rating has plummeted amid scandal over the past several months, dropping to a record low 23 percent in August. Almost three-quarters of Mexicans are dissatisfied with the direction of the country.
So Peña Nieto might not exactly be bringing Trump in for a simple grip-and-grin handshake. Foreign trips have also been problematic for recent Republican presidential candidates. Mitt Romney, for example, criticized the preparations for the 2012 London Olympics, which landed him on the front page of one British newspaper as “Mitt the Twit.”
The logistics of such a move make a trip like this exceedingly difficult, as the Post notes:
“The people informed of Trump’s plans spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity surrounding the matter. They said late Tuesday that talks between the Trump campaign and Mexican officials were ongoing, with Trump interested in going but logistics and security concerns still being sorted out.”
Trump has faced criticism over the past 10 days as he has vacillated on his position on immigration, as NPR’s Danielle Kurtzleben has reported:
“An immigration policy centered around extreme positions — mass deportation of 11 million immigrants in the country illegally, plus building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border — initially helped Trump stand out in the massive Republican primary field.
“So it was a surprise when, last week, the Trump campaign seemed to change direction, indicating that he was open to ‘softening’ his immigration position, and even at one point that he might be open to a path to legalization for some of those immigrants.”
It’s unclear at this point what exactly Trump will lay out Wednesday or what he would do with the estimated 11 million immigrants in the U.S. illegally. Immigration became a central issue in Trump’s campaign on the day he announced his run for the presidency. He charged that immigrants coming to the U.S. illegally were bringing “drugs,” that they were “rapists” and that “some,” he assumed, “were good people.”
That, and Trump’s overall tone throughout the primary campaign, launched a hot backlash from Latinos across the country, within his own party and abroad. Protesters brandished Trump piñatas, and Mexican presidents, current and former, vowed “no way” would Mexico pay for a wall on the U.S.’s southern border.
Peña Nieto went so far as to compare Trump to dictators, like Italy’s Benito Mussolini and Germany’s Adolf Hitler.
“There have been episodes in human history, unfortunately, where these expressions of this strident rhetoric have only led to very ominous situations in the history of humanity,” Peña Nieto told Excelsior, a daily newspaper in Mexico City. “That’s how Mussolini got in, that’s how Hitler got in — they took advantage of a situation, a problem perhaps, which humanity was going through at the time, after an economic crisis. And I think what (they) put forward ended up at what we know today from history, in global conflagration. We don’t want that happening anywhere in the world.”
None of the criticism seemed to faze Trump. He threatened a trade war with the country and floated the idea of seizing remittances from Mexican immigrants in the U.S. to help pay for the wall. On Cinco de Mayo, Trump took to Twitter to show off that he was eating a taco bowl for lunch and wrote, “The best taco bowls are made in Trump Tower Grill. I love Hispanics!”
That set off a new round of controversy. But as polls have shown Hillary Clinton with a consistent lead post-convention, his new campaign team has urged a change in tone, if not policy. Gone is Trump’s idea of a “deportation force,” which he proposed in November last year. He later told NBC’s Chuck Todd on Meet the Press that children born in the U.S. to illegal immigrants would have to be sent back with their families to their parents’ countries of origin.
Trump has said over the past week and a half that there would be no “citizenship” for immigrants in the U.S. illegally and no “path to legalization” without people leaving the country. Trump supporters in a meeting with him Aug. 20 said he talked about the potential for work visas and “touch backs,” people leaving the country or going to consulates and embassies to file paperwork.