Mexican president cancels US visit over Trump’s order to build border wall

Enrique Pea Nieto has said Mexico will not pay for the wall, as US Congress faces questions about budgetary impact of its construction

Mexicos president, Enrique Pea Nieto, has cancelled a scheduled visit to Washington next week to meet with Donald Trump, after the US president signed an executive order to move forward on construction of a border wall and repeated his claim that Mexico would be forced to pay for it.

Pea Nieto tweeted on Thursday that he had informed the White House that he would not attend the meeting with Trump that had been scheduled for Tuesday.

Mexico reiterates its willingness to work with the US to achieve agreements which benefit both nations, he added.

Speaking to congressional Republicans in Philadelphia, Trump claimed the decision to cancel the meeting with Pea Nieto was mutual.

The president of Mexico and myself have agreed to cancel our planned meeting next week, said Trump. He added: Unless Mexico is going to treat the United States fairly, with respect, such a meeting would be fruitless and I want to go a different route. We have no choice.

Trump also repeated his criticism of Nafta, the US free trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, describing it as a terrible deal [and] a total disaster for us since its inception.

Trump: Meeting with Pea Nieto would have been fruitless

Trumps press secretary, Sean Spicer, said that the White House would attempt to set up a new meeting. Well look for a date to schedule something in the future. We will keep the lines of communication open, he said.

Pea Nietos decision came after a day in which he appeared to dither over the appropriate response to a US administration considered one of the most hostile to Mexico since the Mexican-American war of the 1840s.

The Mexican president has come under sustained criticism at home for failing to come up with a decisive strategy to deal with Trumps combative policies, and was under growing pressure to pull out of the meeting.

In a short video statement on Wednesday night, he once again declared that Mexico will not pay for any wall, but stopped short of cancelling the trip to Washington.

On Thursday morning, Trump appeared to be goading Pea Nieto into pulling out of the visit, saying on Twitter: The US has a $60bn trade deficit with Mexico. It has been a one-sided deal from the beginning of Nafta with massive numbers of jobs and companies lost.

If Mexico is unwilling to pay for the badly needed wall, then it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting.

Many Mexicans welcomed Pea Nietos decision, but asked why it had taken so long to make a stand and why it was not included in Wednesday nights video.

Its good, but too late. He should have immediately announced it immediately, said Carlos Bravo Regidor, professor at the Centre for Research and Teaching in Economics. The fact that he has not been able to turn Trump into a piata for national unity is turning [Pea Nieto] into that piata.

The Mexican president has seemed to be constantly wrongfooted by Trump since he launched his election campaign with a barrage of explicitly anti-Mexican rhetoric. Pea Nietos perceived failure to stand up to Trump during a visit to Mexico City in August helped drive down his personal popularity ratings to a historic low of 12%.

Pea Nieto appeared frozen in an impossible situation: agreeing to pay for Trumps wall would stoke domestic outrage; not paying could provoke problems with Trumps team.

That indecision has only fuelled criticism at home.

Political consultant Fernando Dworak described Pea Nietos response as tepid. He needed to show strength. Something like: were withdrawing from all dialogue until there are conditions to talk again.

Others have been more direct, including ex-president Vicente Fox who has targeted Trump with profanity-laden tweets for more than a year.

Vicente Fox Quesada (@VicenteFoxQue)

Sean Spicer, I’ve said this to @realDonaldTrump and now I’ll tell you: Mexico is not going to pay for that fucking wall. #FuckingWall

January 25, 2017

The diplomatic spat comes as US congressional leaders are facing questions about how to actually pay for the border wall and the budgetary impact such a huge project would have.

The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, said on Thursday that a border wall would cost between $12bn and $15bn, but neither he nor the House speaker, Paul Ryan, would say how that cost would be offset in the federal budget.


Spicer, the White House spokesman, declined to say how the Trump administration would secure funding from Mexico for the wall, simply saying a variety of potential sources could pay for it.
The presidents been very clear on his intention to build the wall and how it would be paid for, Spicer said. I think hes been consistent with that throughout.

Speaking to reporters in Philadelphia, Ryan dodged questions about whether the wall would be paid for with budget cuts or new revenue, or if it would represent additional deficit spending.

Ryan repeatedly referred to the wall as a fence, referring to the 2006 Secure Fences Act, a bipartisan bill that provided for barriers along portions of the US-Mexico border.

Trump has repeatedly pledged to build a concrete wall along the entire border, but Wednesdays executive order used a broader definition: A contiguous, physical wall or other similarly secure, contiguous, and impassable physical barrier.

The rift with Mexico comes at a time when there are significant gaps in the US foreign policy establishment that would otherwise be working to heal the divide.

The nominee for secretary of state, former oil executive Rex Tillerson, has yet to be confirmed and there are still no announced candidates for scores of top posts at the state department.

Meanwhile, key people in the departments senior management are leaving this week. Most of them are political appointees, who routinely submit their resignations at the beginning of new administration.

A former senior state department official pointed out that what was not routine was that there was no one in line to replace them.

The Trump people wanted a bunch of the top people to leave on inauguration day. But it was pointed out to them that if they did, there would be nobody home, the former official said.

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