/White House pledges to barrel ahead with Mexico tariffs

White House pledges to barrel ahead with Mexico tariffs

Mike Pence

“We are grateful that the Mexican delegation came forward with proposals. It was a good discussion,” Vice President Mike Pence said. | Ian Maule/Tulsa World via AP

The White House pledged on Thursday to barrel ahead with tariffs on Mexico, saying the U.S. position “has not changed” after officials met for a second day to address the steady flow of Central American migrants trying to enter the United States.

Talks between Mexican and U.S. officials at the White House wrapped up without resolution. Several key officials in the administration were unavailable for negotiations. President Donald Trump was in France for the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, and both Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were on the road.

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One U.S. official said more meetings are planned this evening at State Department. A spokesperson for the Mexican Foreign Ministry said Thursday afternoon that the two sides were still talking.

“We continue to explore options to address the growing number of undocumented migrants that pass through Mexico,” Roberto Velasco Álvarez wrote on Twitter. “The US position is focused on immigration control measures, ours on development. We have not yet reached an agreement but we continue negotiating.“

Another source familiar with the talks told POLITICO that any deal likely “involves more on enforcement and regional coordination on asylum.”

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said it was possible that a 5 percent tariff increase scheduled for Monday could be put off while the negotiations continue. “We’re hopeful that the discussions that are happening right now with the Mexican officials will reach a conclusion and it’s a good one,” Thune said.

However, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that the U.S. was pressing ahead with its plan to impose duties next week.

“We are still moving forward with tariffs at this time,” she said in a statement.

In Mexico, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced plans for a rally in Tijuana on Saturday to “defend Mexican dignity” and outline Mexico’s response if no deal is reached to avoid tariffs.

Trump officials didn’t reply to requests seeking comment on the outcome of the latest discussions. Pence told reporters on Thursday before leaving for a D-Day event in Bedford, Va., that the Trump administration had made some progress on Wednesday in talks with Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard, but that more work was needed.

“We are grateful that the Mexican delegation came forward with proposals. It was a good discussion,” Pence said. “We welcome what [they] put on the table. But, as the president said yesterday, it’s not nearly enough.”

“We continue to explore options to address the growing number of undocumented migrants that pass through Mexico. The US position is focused on immigration control measures, ours on development. We have not yet reached an agreement, but we continue negotiating,”

House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) vowed to pursue congressional action unless Trump drops his plan.

“The president’s proposed tariffs would hurt American workers, businesses, and consumers,” Neal said in a statement. “Commandeering U.S. trade policy to influence border security is an abuse of power. If the president does declare a national emergency and attempt to put these tariffs into place, I will introduce a resolution of disapproval to stop his overreach.”

If passed by both houses of Congress, a resolution would have the effect of stopping the president’s tariff action under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, but it’s unclear whether opponents of Trump’s plan can muster enough votes in both the House and the Senate to overcome a presidential veto.

Most Republicans share Trump’s concern about the increase in Central American migrants entering the United States, even if they worry about the harm of tariffs on local businesses and the national economy.

“I’m hoping this matter gets resolved before we get to a vote,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said. “Indications seem to be from the Mexican officials that are up here talking, that they’re interested in getting a solution. And I think the real focus should be on fixing the underlying problem.”

“I’m not a fan of tariffs, never have been,” added Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). “But the president’s right about this: We need to do something on immigration and the border.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has conveyed the concern Republican senators have about the tariffs to the White House, but whether that’s enough to persuade Trump to back off remains an open question.

Meanwhile, Customs brokers are warning there has not been nearly enough time for them to prepare for a tariff increase. Industry leaders wrote to the administration on Wednesday, urging it to delay the new import duties until U.S. Customs and Border Protection “can develop the procedures by which importers and brokers and reasonably pay them.”

“It is our responsibility as the most knowledgeable professionals, to express our grave concern, even alarm, that it will be impossible to comply, as the mechanisms for compliance are not available between now and June 10, or even before the increase planned for July 1,” the Pacific Coast Council of Customs Brokers and Freight Forwarders Association wrote in a letter.

Officials at U.S. Customs and Border Protection have been working to formalize Trump’s plan, which he announced on Twitter late last week, but had little information to share about the effort on Thursday.

“CBP is working through the details and the technical aspects to implement tariffs on Mexico,” a spokesperson for the agency said.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce last week issued an analysis of how tariffs on Mexico would affect various states. Crucial border states like Texas and 2020 battleground states like Michigan, Illinois and Ohio would be those hardest hit by the duties, the Chamber said.

If a deal is not reached in the next several days, Trump plans to begin imposing a 5 percent duty on all imports from Mexico beginning on Monday and to ratchet that up by 5 percentage points each month until it reaches 25 percent on Oct. 1 or a deal is made.

The firm U.S. tone stood in contrast with Ebrard’s generally upbeat appraisal of meetings at the White House on Wednesday with Pence, Pompeo, acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan and other administration officials.

“We are optimistic because we had a good meeting with respectable positions from both sides,” Ebrard said Wednesday after the talks. Ebrard and the rest of the Mexican delegation will be meeting on Thursday with lower-ranking U.S. officials.

“The secretary of State’s team, as well as White House officials, will be meeting with the Mexican delegation,” Pence said.

Trump’s mind was also on trade, amid all of the pageantry of his whirlwind trip to Europe, which included a state dinner with the U.K.’s Queen Elizabeth II.

“The Democrats — Congress has been a disaster. They won’t change. They won’t do anything. They want free immigration — immigration to pour into our country,” Trump told reporters on the airport tarmac in Ireland before departing for D-Day ceremonies in France.

The president expressed hope about Wednesday’s progress in trade talks with Mexico. But the president doubled down on his threat, predicting that “something pretty dramatic could happen” in talks with Mexico. “We’ve told Mexico the tariffs go on” beginning Monday, he warned. “And I mean it, too. And I’m very happy with it.”

He also ripped the criticism he’s received — including from his own party, which has protested his plan and is eyeing a formal rebuke once it’s finally put in motion.

“And a lot of people, senators included, they have no idea what they’re talking about when it comes to tariffs,” he told reporters. “They have no — absolutely no idea.”

Before arriving in Normandy, where he delivered a soaring address praising “the very greatest Americans who will ever live” and honoring surviving veterans of the famed Allied assault on the Nazis, the president also turned the subject to his ongoing trade war with China, threatening to slap tariffs on yet another $300 billion in goods.

“In the meantime, we’re getting 25 percent on $250 billion, and I can go up another at least $300 billion,” he said. “And I’ll do that at the right time.”

With that, he made to leave, telling reporters: “But I think China wants to make a deal badly. I think Mexico wants to make a deal badly. And I’m going to Normandy.”

Anita Kumar, Burgess Everett, Marianne Levine, Nahal Toosi and Caitlin Oprysko contributed to this article.

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