Call transcripts released to the public last week show that President Donald Trump urged Mexican officials to stop criticizing the Mexico-US border wall for fear it may damage Trump’s political reputation. The transcripts highlight a telephone conversation between the POTUS and Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, and reveal a surprising lack of confidence in the project from day one.
The lengthy and convoluted conversation seemingly started out amicably, with the Mexican president acknowledging a continued disagreement between the leaders and reiterating his desire to “reach an agreement.” Unfortunately, the cheery attitude seemed to immediately wane. Nieto didn’t beat around the bush; after initial platitudes, he unleashed the truth.
“…it is an unthinkable that I cannot ignore this because we find this completely unacceptable for Mexicans to pay for the wall that you are thinking of building.”
Nieto also asserted that he had a political “lack of margin” preventing him from even being able to consider such an agreement at all.
Trump fired back, claiming that he never “wanted a meeting” with Mexico in the first place, and suggested “tariffs at the border, because the United States has a trade deficit with Mexico of $60 billion” as a reasonable alternative to Mexico paying for the wall.
It’s interesting to note that the Washington Post points to increased trade with Mexico as the driving factor behind deficits. Most experts seem to agree that in the realm of Mexico-US relations, at least within this context, the trade deficit is positive, not negative.
Despite this fact, Trump suggested the status quo with Mexico was “unsustainable” and saying “We will not let it go on anymore.“ Nieto countered with surprise, asking Trump why a new proposal was being made now, rather than previously.
The two leaders continued to banter back and forth, with Nieto largely showing polite indignation and Trump highlighting his political successes and wins, until Trump ventured into a diatribe about Mexican warlords, drug lords, border control, and Mexico’s inability to control their own people.
The POTUS then spoke at length about taxes and tariffs, suggesting that the US would no longer accept Mexican products unless they were taxed.
“I don’t want the products and lesser tax. And what that will mean is factories and plants will start to be built in the United States because the taxes will be too high in Mexico.
That was about when the real bombshell dropped.
“The only thing I will ask you though is on the wall, you and I both have a political problem. My people stand up and say, “Mexico will pay for the wall” and your people probably say something in a similar but slightly different language. But the fact is we are both in a little bit of a political bind because I have to have Mexico pay for the wall – I have to.”
He then unleashed what seemed to many like a veiled threat; if Nieto wasn’t willing to work out the issue of the wall, he’d cut off dialogue. He pointed to both the American and Mexican people as supportive of the wall, and beseeched Nieto to consider their preferences.
“They are going to say, “who is going to pay for the wall, Mr. President?” to both of us, and we should both say, “we will work it out.” It will work out in the formula somehow. As opposed to you saying, “we will not pay” and me saying, “we will not pay.”
“We cannot say that anymore because if you are going to say that Mexico is not going to pay for the wall, then I do not want to meet with you guys anymore because I cannot live with that.”
Trump continued, suggesting press destruction of his career if Mexico didn’t agree to be involved with the wall.
“But you cannot say that to the press. The press is going to go with that and I cannot live with that. “
Nieto wasn’t having any of it. He repeatedly deflected throughout the conversation, finally summing up his thoughts by refusing outright.
“Let us stop talking about who pays for the wall, talking about the wall in general, because I think there is a more creative way we can start looking for a solution. And it is the way we can remove the big block in our path. “
The Mexican president did reiterate a willingness to discuss creative ways to pay for the wall — ways that certainly wouldn’t require anything from the Mexican government. But Trump’s comments are raising questions; some are asking if the POTUS was more concerned about national security or his own career. Certainly, pointing out press interference as a driving reason for Mexico to pay for the wall is questionable. That said, text doesn’t always carry meaning, and spoken inflection can greatly change tone. It’s possible that the transcript isn’t carrying meaning as a telephone conversation would.