July 1, 2020 / 12:45 PM / a month ago

Mexican president to hold first meeting with Trump, Democrats unimpressed

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico’s president and his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump will hold their first meeting on July 8 in Washington, officials said on Wednesday, sparking complaints from Democratic lawmakers, who saw it as a political stunt with elections looming.

FILE PHOTO: Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador speaks during a news conference at the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico June 29, 2020. Mexico's Presidency/Handout via REUTERS

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has not left his country since taking office in December 2018, and paying his first foreign visit to Trump is politically risky because the Republican U.S. president is widely disliked in Mexico.

For Lopez Obrador to visit less than four months before Trump attempts to secure re-election has sparked comment from Mexican critics that it could help the American president shore up support among millions of Hispanic voters.

Lopez Obrador has described the visit as a matter of economic necessity and said it has nothing to do with the November election. He has vowed to stay neutral in the contest.

On Wednesday, Lopez Obrador reiterated that he would be there to bolster Mexico’s economic ties with the United States and celebrate the start of a new regional trade deal on July 1. Trilateral matters that include Canada are on the agenda on the morning of July 9, his government said.

Trump said he would talk about trade, health and security with Lopez Obrador, as they met to mark the beginning of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which is replacing the 26-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

However, a letter sent on Wednesday to the White House by members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus urged Trump to call off the meeting, describing it as an effort to distract from the president’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Seen by Reuters, the letter signed by more than a dozen Democrats in Congress called the meeting a “blatant attempt to politicize the important U.S.-Mexico relationship along partisan lines.”

A Democratic congressional aide said Mexico’s government would get a similar letter soon.

Mexico has urged Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to take part in the meeting. So far, Canada had not responded to the invitation to participate, Lopez Obrador said.

Many Mexicans have held Trump in low regard since he described Mexican migrants as rapists and drug runners in his 2015-16 election campaign and vowed to make Mexico pay for his planned border wall.

He has also made repeated threats against Mexico’s economy to pressure its government to stem illegal immigration.

Reporting by Dave Graham and Anthony Esposito in Mexico City; Additional reporting by Eric Beech in Washington; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Jonathan Oatis and Gerry Doyle

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