The U.S.-Mexico relationship is “based on friendship and it’s also an indispensable commercial and economic relationship, so that’s why the trip to the United States,” López Obrador said late last month when he announced the visit.
The meeting is part of the two leaders’ “continued partnership on trade, health, and other issues central to regional prosperity and security” and will recognize the USMCA and “their shared effort to ensure North America continues strengthening its economic ties while working to combat the coronavirus pandemic,” the White House press secretary said in a statement.
But Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office announced he will not be attending the meeting, raising concerns among Democrats that it will serve Trump’s political aims four months before the election.
“What’s the urgency of coming now? Why isn’t Prime Minister Trudeau participating in this meeting? And why didn’t the meeting take place before [USMCA] took effect?” Rep. Chuy García, who represents one of Chicago’s largest Mexican immigrant communities and is a Mexican immigrant, told POLITICO.
“It’s puzzling to Mexican leaders in Mexico and here to think that somehow this trip would be advantageous to Mexico or AMLO because of the means Trump has to exploit the visit and to manipulate it to extract Mexican American and Latino votes through this visit. It’s what a lot of folks find repulsive,” García added.
Last week, more than a dozen members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus urged Trump to cancel the meeting, calling it “nothing more than an attempt to distract from the coronavirus crisis and your failure to lead an adequate response to the pandemic.”
Still, U.S. business leaders are hopeful López Obrador will use the trip to show that Mexico wants U.S. investment and will offer a better environment for it. The Mexican leader has alarmed investors worldwide with his moves to abruptly cancel major projects, like a partly built airport and brewery, where billions of dollars had already been spent.
“After 18 months of uneven decision making by the Mexican government that has shaken investor confidence, the visit marks a pivotal opportunity for AMLO to ensure U.S. stakeholders that Mexico is committed to upholding its USMCA obligations and to ensure a sound predictable investment environment moving forward,” said Neil Herrington, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s senior vice president for the Americas.
The Oval Office sit-down poses a risk for both leaders, neither of whom has embraced wearing face masks and who recently have resumed traveling across their respective countries for events. The Mexican leader is also coming on a commercial flight with layovers to Washington, raising further health concerns.
Coronavirus cases in the U.S. are still spiking as the nation has seen more than 130,000 deaths and 3 million confirmed infections. Mexico is also in bad shape as the country with the fifth-highest number of deaths — more than 31,000 — due to the coronavirus and more than 250,000 confirmed cases, figures widely thought to be underreported.
Their willingness to meet in the middle of a pandemic is a reminder of their similarities, even if they identify with different sides of the political spectrum.
Both leaders maintain a contentious relationship with the media. López Obrador has railed against major outlets like Mexican newspaper Reforma for what he says is unfair or fake reporting in a similar manner as Trump.
López Obrador has often repeated his philosophy that “the best foreign policy is domestic policy,” as he tries to steer clear from getting involved on the world stage. That’s made it all the more surprising that his first trip abroad is to the United States. But López Obrador’s nationalist attitude and focus on domestic issues is not unfamiliar in the United States, as Trump, too, has pressed for an America First agenda throughout his presidency.
“I think they genuinely want each other as president because neither one cares about the other,” said Jorge Guajardo, a former Mexican ambassador to China and senior director at McLarty Associates. “Trump doesn’t want to get involved in Mexico and López Obrador doesn’t want to get involved with the United States. The less they have to talk about each other, the better.”