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Pre-Immigration Speech, Trump To Meet With Mexico's President


Donald Trump will travel to Mexico City later today at the invitation of Mexico's president. Both he and President Enrique Pena Nieto confirmed it on Twitter last night. That announcement came as quite a surprise, given that Trump launched his presidential campaign last year by declaring that Mexico was sending criminals, drug dealers and rapists to the United States. For his part, Pena Nieto has compared Trump's language to that of Hitler and Mussolini. NPR's Sarah McCammon covers the Trump campaign, and she's with us now. Good morning.


MONTAGNE: OK, surprising that this meeting is happening. How did it come about?

MCCAMMON: Right, well, President Pena Nieto's office says that Trump has accepted his invitation to meet privately. Trump also says he's accepted and looking forward to the meeting. The visit comes at a moment when the Trump campaign is trying to shore up his vulnerability. The polls have consistently shown a majority of voters don't think Trump has the qualities needed to, you know, be commander-in-chief. And so visiting a major U.S. ally and trading partner is an opportunity for that. But I should mention that Pena Nieto's office says that he invited both major U.S. presidential candidates.

MONTAGNE: And what will Trump, when he - in his turn here - and Mexico's president talk about?

MCCAMMON: So they're expected to talk about - the purpose of the meeting, according to Pena Nieto's office is to discuss the U.S.-Mexico relationship. So that's apparently the official purpose. But, Renee, one can speculate that immigration is likely to come up. I mean, after all, it is Trump's focus today. Trump has made a series of statements about Mexico over the past many months.

He kicked off his campaign by saying that Mexico was sending criminals across the border. And as we heard, that provoked a strong response from Pena Nieto. Trump has also promised to make Mexico pay for a border wall to keep people from crossing into the U.S. illegally. So, you know, Pena Nieto really has no incentive to help Trump today or make him look good, but certainly there is plenty that they could talk about.

MONTAGNE: I mean, do you think that wall will come up today?

MCCAMMON: Again, you know, you can only wonder, being a fly on the wall, what will come up. That is, I'm sure, an elephant in the room if it doesn't come up. But, you know, Pena Nieto has said that there's no situation in which Mexico would pay for that wall, so perhaps Trump will make the ask. But Pena Nieto has already said no.

MONTAGNE: All right. OK, so later today, Donald Trump will be in Phoenix to deliver a long-awaited speech on immigration policy. This speech has been canceled and rescheduled more than once. What is he going to say tonight?

MCCAMMON: So let's start off, Renee, by remembering that this is happening, in large part, because Trump has changed his position on this key issue several times in the past week. The biggest issue is that his campaign appears - appears to be trying to sort out how much of a hard-line position Trump should take on this question of deporting the estimated 11 million people coming in - who are in the country illegally already.

At one point last week, Trump even seemed to be open to the idea of providing some kind of legal status to those immigrants. Now that is a position that Trump had ridiculed during the primaries and one that isn't popular with many of his strongest supporters. The big question for many people, though, is who would be deported under Trump's policies, and how would that be enforced? And that's what's not clear yet. So tonight, you know, he may outline a specific proposal on that issue.

We really don't know for sure. He did seem to return to a harder-line position on the deportation issue over the weekend. But, you know, exactly how he would go about that - unclear. I'm expecting the focus of this speech to be building a wall, securing the border, keeping more people from coming in. That is a really popular idea with his supporters.

MONTAGNE: And who, though, exactly is Trump trying to reach? I mean, what is he trying to accomplish with this speech?

MCCAMMON: Well, Renee, he's deep in the general election campaign, and the kind of rhetoric that worked for the primary may not work so well now. He's lagging by a lot of indicators in a lot of major polls. Trump's campaign recognizes that they need to expand their base of support and explain his policies to a larger audience in a way that doesn't scare them off. But they also can't alienate those enthusiastic supporters who made Trump the nominee and whose energy he needs. So, you know, the positions he took last week did some harm to his standing with some of his typical allies who want to reduce immigration, so he's really trying to thread a very narrow needle.

MONTAGNE: Sarah, thanks very much.

MCCAMMON: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Sarah McCammon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.
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