President Trump met with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador at the White House on Wednesday in Lopez Obrador’s first foreign trip as president -- and despite complaints from Democrats that the meeting was politically motivated.
Trump and Lopez Obrador held a bilateral meeting in the White House before signing a joint declaration in the Rose Garden, where both leaders paid tribute to the U.S.-Mexican relationship.
"The relationship between U.S. and Mexico has never been closer than it is right now," Trump said.
Trump said the U.S. is home to 36 million Mexican-Americans and that they make up a "big percentage" of small business owners: "They're like you, they're tough negotiators and great business people, Mr. President."
It is Lopez Obrador’s first visit to the White House and with Trump, as well as his first international trip since taking office in December 2018. The Mexican leader arrived Tuesday in a commercial plane and tested negative for COVID-19.
Earlier, he visited the Lincoln Memorial and a statue of former Mexican President Benito Juarez. Both leaders touted the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which took effect last week and replaced the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) -- an agreement Trump has repeatedly railed against.
"Today we celebrate the historic victory we achieved together just days ago when NAFTA was officially terminated, one of the worst trade deals in history, and replaced with a brand new beautiful USMCA," Trump said.
Lopez Obrador, meanwhile, hailed the agreement as "a great accomplishment benefiting all three nations and our people."
The visit will include a dinner, where business guests from American and Mexican companies will be in attendance. Guests are expected to include CEOs and executives from telecom, auto, financial, transportation, energy and media companies.
But the meeting had raised objections from Democrats. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus, comprised entirely of Democrats, accused Trump in a letter last week of staging the meeting as a distraction from what they called a "failure to lead" as many states have faced spikes in coronavirus cases.
"It’s really a shame it's being used for political convenience," a Trump official told Fox News on Tuesday. "Everyone should be proud that these two leaders have the relationship they have to deal with these issues and the challenges that we've faced in these times and have done so fairly successfully.”
Trump has had a sometimes tense relationship with Mexico, particularly due to his aggressive language on illegal immigration during his first campaign. Last year, he threatened to slap tariffs on Mexico if it did not do more to stop illegal immigration across the border, which in turn led to greater cooperation between the two on the “Remain in Mexico” policy.
On Wednesday, acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf hailed the cooperation between the two countries on immigration.
“Due to our great partnership with Mexico, we have greatly reduced the flow of illegal migration between our two countries. We look forward to continuing to work with Mexico to prevent criminal activity -- to include drug smuggling and gun violence -- from making it to U.S. cities,” he said.
The land border between the two countries is currently closed to all but essential traffic during the coronavirus pandemic, but goods have been able to flow across the border.
Lopez Obrador, meanwhile, has noted that Trump helped Mexico reach a deal with other oil-producing nations to cut production and also helped the country obtain more ventilators to fight the coronavirus.
Fox News’ Rich Edson and Ronn Blitzer contributed to this report, as well as The Associated Press.