Facing an escalating showdown with Mexico and an insurrection from his own party, President Trump said Friday the United States had reached a deal with Mexico to avert a 5% tariff on all imported Mexican goods that was due to take effect today and increase to 25% by October. Trump’s announcement came after three days of Mexico-U.S. negotiations in Washington. Officials said it was based around Mexico’s commitment to deploy National Guard forces throughout the country, in particular to its southern border, in order to stem the flow of northbound migrants headed toward the US. Under the deal, they said Mexico also agreed to expand what is known as the Remain in Mexico policy, which allows the U.S. to send back Central American asylum-seeking migrants to Mexico while their cases make their way through immigration courts. However, on Saturday, The New York Times reported that the plan to send troops to the border had already been agreed to in March. We speak with Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch and author of “The Rise and Fall of Fast Track Trade Authority.”
In return for having the tariff “indefinitely suspended,” Mexico has agreed to militarize the country using Mr. López Obrador’s newly created National Guard, which is under military command. The effort will start at the southern border, though where it will end is anybody’s guess.
Mr. Trump has claimed victory in his tariff gambit. But it’s unclear how effective the promised troops will be at stopping migrants. The main causes of the crisis are liberal U.S. laws and procedures for claiming asylum, which attract migrants from Central America and other places. Congress has refused to pass reform. But markets work, as more than a half-century of a failed war on drugs proves, and the wild Guatemalan border will not be easily sealed.
.. Meanwhile, AMLO, as the Mexican president is popularly known, also won, though insidiously. The career politician with an authoritarian bent is a backer of Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro. Since taking office in December, he has been cozying up to the military. Now he pockets more power, and with the blessing of Washington. This is a setback for the rule of law.
President López Obrador initially had very high approval ratings. But they began falling when Mexico’s economy slumped in the first quarter, and his attacks on the press alienated even some of his most ideologically sympathetic constituents. Mexicans who were worried about the strongman instincts of their socialist president gained hope that the slowdown would force him to exercise greater restraint.
Then came Mr. Trump’s May 30 threat, and Mexicans rallied behind their president. A poll by the Mexican daily El Financiero last week found that “84% of Mexicans believe that, faced with pressure” from Mr. Trump, “the country should remain united and support” AMLO.
Mr. López Obrador knows how to play politics. In the earliest months of his presidency he encouraged the migrants before taking a more practical stance. In the face of standard Trump hyperbole about Mexico, he calmly sent a delegation to Washington to negotiate. His base is praising the deal, though had it been sealed by an AMLO opponent they would have vigorously denounced it. His opposition is happy because free trade is saved.
An AMLO rally Saturday in Tijuana was originally billed as “an act of unity to defend the dignity of Mexico and in favor of the friendship with the people of the United States.” After the two sides came to agreement, it was changed to a “celebration” of the deal—and of the new life that Mr. Trump breathed into AMLO’s presidency.
Republican senators sent the White House a sharp message on Tuesday, warning that they were almost uniformly opposed to President Trump’s plans to impose tariffs on Mexican imports, just hours after the president said lawmakers would be “foolish” to try to stop him.
Mr. Trump’s latest threat to impose 5 percent tariffs on all goods imported from Mexico, rising to as high as 25 percent until the Mexican government stems the flow of migrants, has prompted some of the most serious defiance in the Republican ranks since the president took office.
Republican senators emerged from a closed-door lunch at the Capitol angered by the briefing they received from a deputy White House counsel and an assistant attorney general on the legal basis for Mr. Trump to impose new tariffs by declaring a national emergency at the southern border.
“I want you to take a message back” to the White House, Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, told the lawyers, according to people familiar with the meeting. Mr. Cruz warned that “you didn’t hear a single yes” from the Republican conference. He called the proposed tariffs a $30 billion tax increase on Texans.
“I will yield to nobody in passion and seriousness and commitment for securing the border,” Mr. Cruz later told reporters. “But there’s no reason for Texas farmers and ranchers and manufacturers and small businesses to pay the price of massive new taxes.”
The president’s latest foray into a global trade war has troubled economists and roiled stock and bond markets. The Federal Reserve chairman, Jerome H. Powell, hinted on Tuesday that the central bank could cut interest rates if the trade war started to hurt the economy. The remarks sent stocks higher for their strongest day in months.
But senators were mindful of the long-term stakes for their home states.
Texas would be hit the hardest by the proposed tariffs on Mexican products, followed by Michigan, California, Illinois and Ohio, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. A 25 percent tariff would threaten $26.75 billion of Texas imports.
Senator Kevin Cramer, Republican of North Dakota, expressed support for the president, as did Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina, who is up for re-election in 2020 and faced blistering criticism after flip-flopping this year on whether he would vote to disapprove the president’s emergency declaration to build the wall.
“I think Mexico could help us solve the crisis down at the border,” Mr. Tillis told reporters. “What’s the tax on handling 80,000 additional illegal immigrants coming across the border, housing them, adjudicating them? You’ve got to look at the total cost of the prices.”
If a revolt comes to pass, it would start in the Senate, but House Republicans would have to join the effort to overturn a veto.
Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the chairman of the House Democratic caucus, declined to forecast whether the House would try to block the tariffs on Mexico.
“The administration’s tariff policy is erratic and all over the place,” he said. “We will see what the Senate Republicans ultimately decide to do, but we will certainly strongly consider proceeding in a way that is appropriate and consistent with our legislative powers.”
Mr. Trump seemed unimpressed when a reporter noted that Mexican officials said that they had increased the number of migrants they had apprehended coming into their country from elsewhere in Central America. He offered no specifics on what it would take to keep the tariffs from being imposed.
“Look, millions of people are flowing through Mexico,” Mr. Trump said. “That’s unacceptable.”
Democrats have roundly opposed Mr. Trump’s border stance and his plan to impose tariffs on Mexico. But his announcement triggered blowback from some Senate Republicans as well, who returned this week from a Memorial Day recess ready to consider their options to stop him.
Republican senators will meet behind closed doors Tuesday for a weekly lunch, where the subject is expected to be at the top of the agenda. A White House deputy counsel is expected to attend to discuss the matter.
“If [White House officials] continue down this path and they escalated the tariff, I suspect Congress is going to want to probably be heard from, for sure,” Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R., S.D.) said on Monday night. He said that Republicans were still in the process of studying the legal authority on which the administration would rely to impose the tariffs.
In comments at a press conference in London alongside U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, Mr. Trump brushed off Republican senators’ concerns, calling any move to block him a mistake.
“I don’t think they will do that—if they do, it’s foolish,” Mr. Trump said, when asked what he thought of potential Republican efforts to block his Mexico tariffs. On the state of the talks with Mexico, he said: “We are going to see if we can do something, but I think it’s more likely that the tariffs go on.”
One issue is whether the national emergency Mr. Trump declared earlier this year to divert funds to Mexico border-wall construction also gives him the power to impose tariffs. Some Republicans suspect he sees that declaration as providing the legal basis to impose ever-increasing tariffs as a mechanism to pressure Mexico to stem the flow of migrants. The White House hasn’t publicly cited its legal basis for the tariffs plan.