PHILADELPHIA (AP) — President Donald Trump’s campaign promise to build a wall on the Mexican border came to the fore at a Republican retreat in Philadelphia Thursday when he told party lawmakers that a meeting with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto had been canceled.
Trump said he and Peña Nieto “have agreed to cancel our planned meeting” following an earlier Twitter exchange.
Trump’s remarks, which included few details on key issues including tax reform and health care, came after several days of executive actions on trade and immigration. On Wednesday, he began overhauling the nation’s immigration rules and moved to jumpstart construction of his promised U.S.-Mexico border wall. He also ordered cuts in federal grants for “sanctuary cities,” which shield some immigrants from federal law enforcement, and authorized increases in the number of border patrol agents and immigration officers.
The executive orders caused immediate friction between him and Peña Nieto. The Mexican president moved to cancel their planned Jan. 31 meeting just hours after Trump tweeted, “If Mexico is unwilling to pay for the badly needed wall, then it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting” — a meeting scheduled for Washington, D.C.
On Wednesday, Trump reiterated his intention to see the wall built and to make Mexico pay for it. Mexico opposes the wall, and Mexican leaders have repeatedly said their nation will not pay for it.
Peña Nieto’s message on Twitter ended days of uncertainty about how he would respond to Trump’s stance toward the country. It also signaled a notable souring of relations between the U.S. and its immediate southern neighbor—one of America’s largest trading partners and a country with which it shares a nearly 2,000-mile border.
“This morning we have informed the White House that I will not attend the working meeting planned for next Tuesday,” Peña Nieto tweeted. “Mexico reaffirms its willingness to work with the United States to reach agreements that benefit both nations.”
White House press secretary Sean Spicer responded to the Mexican president’s announcement, saying: “We’ll look for a date to schedule something in the future. We will keep the lines of communication open.”
Former Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Jorge Castañeda told local media that, after Trump’s tweet, “Peña Nieto has no other choice but to say, ‘I’m not going.'”
Trump’s unpredictable style appeared to catch Mexico’s normally quiet and cautious diplomacy off guard.
“I think that, in general, diplomacy is not conducted via Twitter,” Mexican Finance Secretary Jose Antonio Meade told talk show Radio Formula,.
Mexico’s best-known opposition politician, leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, tweeted: “In the face of Trump’s latest outburst, don’t go to the meeting, and submit an urgent complaint to the U.N. for human rights violations.”
At the Republican retreat, Trump spoke about his agenda in broad terms and then skipped a planned question-and-answer session. Cheers greeted the president as he took the stage in a hotel ballroom, telling senators and House members, “This Congress is going to be the busiest Congress in decades — maybe ever.”
He gave Republicans no specific marching orders for tackling the repeal and replacement of “Obamacare,” one of the most complicated issues Congress is expected to tackle this year.
The brief trip to Philadelphia marked Trump’s first flight on Air Force One, the familiar blue and white government plane that has long ferried presidents around the country and the world. Spokesman Sean Spicer described Trump — who traveled throughout the campaign and the transition on his own private jet — as being “in awe” of the presidential aircraft.
Trump’s election put Republicans in control of both the White House and Congress for the first time in more than a decade. Yet Trump’s often-fluid ideology has sometimes put him at odds with his own party, making agreement on issues including a tax overhaul and entitlements no guarantee.
Trump said he had suggested to GOP leaders that they could “just do nothing for two years” in order to let Obamacare self-destruct and ramp up pressure on Democrats to join overhaul efforts.
“Except we have one problem — we have to take care of the American people,” he said.