January 26, 2017; BBC News
Over the past few days, we’ve all watched a number of situations where accounts of what’s occurring inside the Beltway conflict. The resignation of four highly placed state department officials reported yesterday has been characterized by major media sources as 1) a firing, 2) a resignation in advance of Tillerson’s assuming the lead and in protest of the tone being set, or 3) just normal turnover. So the fact that for a while it was somewhat unclear who cancelled the meeting next week between Donald Trump and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto is no surprise.
It seems that the media is, as with some other issues, trying valiantly to get a straight story out of the administration as one set of assertions quickly supplants another. In the case of Mexico, it’s something of a who-broke-up-with-whom scenario, but with about $600 billion a year’s worth of stakes. (That is the annual value of trade between the two countries.) Whoever cancelled did so after Trump continued to declare that not only would a $12–15 billion border wall be built, but that the Mexican government would pay for it. Trump told Republican lawmakers who were on retreat in Philadelphia yesterday that the meeting cancelation was by mutual agreement, but he had already declared the meeting would be “fruitless” unless Mexico treated the U.S. “with respect” by paying for the border wall. Peña Nieto had a slightly different story, saying that he only cancelled the visit after Trump pretty much forced his hand with a full-on campaign of public posturing. “If Mexico is unwilling to pay for the badly needed wall, then it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting,” the U.S. president wrote on Twitter Thursday morning.
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Peña Nieto, for his part, says, “I’ve said time and again: Mexico won’t pay for any wall.” Indeed, he cannot agree to such a proposal; many Mexicans were outraged when Candidate Trump described Mexican migrants as murderers and rapists (though he said that some, he assumed, were good people) and disapproved of a previous meeting between Peña Nieto and Trump. They see the wall proposal as divisive, unnecessary, inhumane, expensive, and ineffective. By most accounts, they disapprove of any political kowtowing to Trump on their behalf, so, in the context of Trump’s public goading, it would have been next to politically impossible for Peña Nieto to travel to D.C. to meet with Trump.
Meanwhile, Sean Spicer made it known that one of the president’s proposed plans to pay for the “big, beautiful” wall was a 20 percent tariff on Mexican goods. Vanity Fair pointed out the apparent consequence of this: Americans, not Mexicans, would end up paying. After that, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus told reporters that a border tax is just one of a “buffet of options” to pay for the wall. (Mexico, by the way, Is the U.S.’s third-largest trade partner.)
And so it goes.—Ruth McCambridge