President Trump tweeted that talks with Mexican officials would continue Thursday, raising hopes they may be able to reach an agreement to averting potentially crippling tariffs on Mexican imports.
The possibility of a deal comes amid great pressure from the Mexican government and top Republican leaders who warned of potentially disastrous consequences.
Last week, Trump warned that he would impose a 5% tariff starting June 10 on all imported goods from Mexico that would "gradually increase" until the flow of undocumented immigrants across the border stopped.
With Trump overseas, Pence hosted the White House meeting Wednesday in his office with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan, Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard and other top U.S. and Mexican officials to see if they could avert a potential economic crisis.
Top GOP lawmakers break with Trump
In a rare public divide, many top Republicans tried to convince Trump not to carry out this threat charging the tariffs are nothing but additional taxes that would hurt the U.S. economy and do little to resolve the influx of illegal immigrants.
"There is not much support in my conference for tariffs, that's for sure," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters Tuesday.
But the Republican front is not so united, with key members like Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaking out on behalf of Trump and the tariffs.
Rubio tweeted Wednesday reports of Mexican officials failing to stop hundreds of Central Americans crossing the border with Guatemala.
"I don't generally like tariffs either," Rubio tweeted. "But what alternative do my GOP colleagues have to get #Mexico to secure its southern border, use the Isthmus of Tehuantepec to screen northbound rail cars & vehicles & act on intel we provide on human traffickers?"
Giving the Trump administration greater ammunition to call for stronger action, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced Wednesday that more than 144,000 migrants were taken into custody after crossing the southern border in May, the third consecutive month that immigration authorities have encountered more than 100,000 migrants at the southern border.
"We are in a full-blown emergency," said acting CBP Commissioner John Sanders.
Trump's top trade adviser, Peter Navarro, said Wednesday morning on CNN that the tariffs "may not have to go into effect" if Mexico agreed to several steps to stop the flow of undocumented immigration.
They included enforcing its own immigration laws, securing its southern border with Guatemala and committing to taking "all the asylum seekers."
On Wednesday, a group of seven former U.S. ambassadors to Mexico representing both Republican and Democratic administrations called on Trump to abandon the threats and "de-link trade and immigration."
Carlos Pascual, who served as a U.S. ambassador to Mexico during the Obama administration and one of the authors, warned higher tariffs won't solve the immigration problem and would ultimately lead to higher costs for American consumers as well as lost jobs because of the damage done to U.S.-Mexico supply chains.
"The United States and Mexico have to work together in order to resolve a problem that fundamentally addresses the interest of both countries," Pascual said. "It can't be resolved unilaterally."
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador spoke optimistically this week that tariffs could be avoided, as did Ebrard, who told reporters Tuesday he saw an 80% chance that Trump would not impose the penalties.
Some former Mexican officials have been critical of the government's conciliatory approach.
Only now is the Mexican government warning of potential countertariffs that could hurt U.S. interests.
Antonio Ocaranza, a top aide in the administration of former president Ernesto Zedillo, said Mexico should be employing more resources to mobilize allies in the United States to speak out on both sides interests.
"The way we're dealing with the United States is playing into the hands of Trump because Trump is not facing major political costs on his decisions against Mexico," Ocaranza said. "If Mexico can't take its case to the U.S, talking to lawmakers, academics talking to academics. Business people talking to their counterparts, government officials doing the same, then you're losing ground."
Trump, during a press conference in London, said that it was "more likely that the tariffs go on" and called Republicans "foolish" if they fought him.
But Trump had also left the door open for a resolution, noting Wednesday's talks.
"We're going to see if we can do something," he said.
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