President Donald Trump intensified his defense of the widely panned agreement his administration struck with Mexico, even calling in to a cable news show for nearly half an hour Monday to try to sell the deal as a victory.
After a weekend of railing against news reports poking holes in his claims — some of which are so far unsubstantiated — that Mexico had agreed to significant new concessions on immigration enforcement to avert tariffs, the president took to the airwaves to argue his case.
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The president apparently called in to respond to an interview on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” during which Myron Brilliant, head of international affairs at the Chamber of Commerce, decried Trump’s “weaponization of tariffs.”
“It’s nonsense,” he said of reports that the concessions he touted had been previously agreed to. “We talked about it for months and months and months. And they wouldn’t get there.”
But he dismissed the dire economic consequences experts had warned of had the 5 percent tariffs gone into effect, while mischaracterizing who would have been hit hardest by the levies, which almost always are passed on to consumers. “We said, ‘Look, if you don’t get there, we’re going to have to charge you hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes.’ We would have been just fine,” Trump argued.
Brilliant had argued moments before that the tariffs needlessly jeopardized the economy and America’s standing with its trade partners. He also suggested that picking a fight over trade with Mexico as Trump is attempting to get his renegotiated NAFTA agreement ratified was unwise.
“He’s not protecting our country, he’s doing a very big disservice,” the president said of Brilliant. “He’s protecting all of those companies that are members that like it just the way they are. And they have companies in Mexico, and they have companies in China.”
“It’s another very powerful tool, in addition to the very powerful tools we got. We had none of these tools — or virtually none — or they were just being talked about” until the U.S. put tariffs on the table, Trump argued.
“If we didn’t have tariffs, we wouldn’t have made a deal with Mexico,” Trump asserted. “This is something the U.S. has been trying to get for over 20 years with Mexico. As soon as I put tariffs on the table it was done — it took two days.”
He still offered few specifics, teasing in a tweet Monday morning a “very important” part of the deal that had been “fully signed and documented” but was first subject to a vote by Mexico’s Legislature. He was even more vague in his interview on CNBC.
“I’m gonna tell you that most people understand that the people having to do with borders and illegal immigration and immigration of any kind understand exactly what that is. But we purposely said we wouldn’t mention it for a while.”
The provision, which Trump described as “one that the U.S. has been asking about getting for many years” would be revealed “in the not too distant future and will need a vote by Mexico’s Legislative body!”
Though Trump added that “we do not anticipate a problem with the vote,” he warned that “if for any reason the approval is not forthcoming, Tariffs will be reinstated!”
Trump spent much of his weekend defending the deal on Twitter after it was widely panned for not containing much that was new.
Mexico said as part of the agreement it would send 6,000 troops from its newly formed National Guard to the country’s southern border with Guatemala, a move aimed at cutting off the flow of migrants bound for the U.S. border, but one that had already been under discussion before Trump’s threats to slap a 5 percent tariff on goods imported from Mexico.
The deal also involved an expansion of the “remain in Mexico” policy, which forces certain non-Mexican asylum seekers to wait in Mexico pending the resolution of their cases in the U.S., which was also under discussion previously.
On Monday, Trump also reprised his attacks on the media for their reporting on the deal, bemoaning the “sick journalism” of The New York Times but not offering any specific contradictions to their reporting.
“When will the Failing New York Times admit that their front page story on the the [sic] new Mexico deal at the Border is a FRAUD and nothing more than a badly reported ‘hit job’ on me, something that has been going on since the first day I announced for the presidency!” Trump posited. He appeared to refer in particular to a story that said the deal reached Friday, which the White House was hailing as a major victory, “consists largely of actions that Mexico had already promised to take in prior discussions with the United States over the past several months.”
The Times responded to Trump’s earlier attacks on their reporting Sunday morning, declaring that they were standing by their story. “We are confident in our reporting, and as with so many other occasions, our stories stand up over time and the president’s denials of them do not,” the paper said in a tweet, adding that “Calling the press the enemy is undemocratic and dangerous.”
Monday morning, the president also dinged Congress — and Democrats in particular — for dragging their feet on border control.
“Now with our new deal, Mexico is doing more for the USA on Illegal Immigration than the Democrats,” he tweeted, accusing Democrats of doing “NOTHING” to help his administration address the recent surge of migrants crossing the border.
Kellyanne Conway, a senior counselor to Trump, echoed that argument in an appearance on Fox News.
“Mexico took the president’s tariff threat very seriously, and they’re starting to take enforcement of southern border seriously,” she said in an interview on “Fox & Friends.” “This is important for both countries — we now have Mexico doing more than Democrats who work behind me on Capitol Hill on securing our southern border.”
She also alluded to the prospect of more components of the deal, responding to questions about Trump’s claims that Mexico had agreed to boost its agricultural purchases and whether there was the possibility of a so-called third country provision by referencing “some mechanisms Mexico will need to take care of on their end.”
Though Mexican officials noted over the weekend that the agreement doesn’t require having Mexico declared a “safe third country,” as the Trump administration had sought, Conway called the idea “part of the president’s strategy from the beginning.” Under such an agreement, migrants would be required to seek asylum in Mexico if they pass through that country en route to the U.S.
Still, Conway said, “I can’t talk about all the details yet” and that she could only comment on the general principal of the third-country concept. When asked about the president’s tweets this morning, Conway again deferred. “I’m not here to talk about this, the president and others will reveal that in due time.”