At 8:31 p.m. on Friday night, a triumphant President Donald Trump declared that the latest crisis of his own making would be averted, promising to hold off on stiff tariffs because Mexico agreed to “greatly reduce, or eliminate, Illegal Immigration.”
By Monday, the president’s victory lap had screeched to a halt.
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As news outlets began chipping away at the agreement’s veneer, pointing out that it wasn’t the game-changer that Trump made it out to be, the president started lashing out, painting himself as a victim and insisting that he’s not getting the credit he deserves.
In the span of three days, he fired off more than a dozen angry Twitter messages complaining about media coverage. He promised there was more to the deal than meets the eye, teasing a “very important” part of the agreement that will be “revealed in the not too distant future.” And he called into CNBC for a 27-minute, impromptu interview in which he bashed the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for criticizing his approach to trade negotiations while offering few new details about the deal.
“If we didn’t have tariffs we wouldn’t have made a deal with Mexico,” Trump said during the CNBC phone interview, defending his strategy. “This is something the U.S. has been trying to get for over 20 years with Mexico. As soon as I put tariffs on the table it was done — it took two days.”
Later Monday, the White House opened a previously closed-press event with the winners of the Indianapolis 500, moving it to from the Oval Office to the Rose Garden, a location that can accommodate more reporters. As cameras rolled, Trump used the opportunity to again tout the agreement. “Mexico is doing more for the United States as of now than Congress and the Democrats,” he said.
The cycle of lashing out and hitting back is a familiar pattern for Trump. As his presidency reaches the 2.5-year mark, he is more aggrieved than ever, telling advisers that he believes he’ll never get fair treatment from the media and establishment politicians that he believes hate him.
“He has this insatiable need to impress people and demonstrate accomplishments and notch achievements,” a former White House official said. “When he feels like he’s done something that should be recognized as a success and people are not recognizing it that way, it poses an existential threat to his sense of self — and this is what you get.”
The fight with Mexico combined two of the policy issues that Trump’s advisers believe will be crucial to his reelection: trade and immigration. The president is eager to demonstrate progress on both fronts, and his anger with the response to the Mexico deal reflects his sensitivity to being seen as ineffective as the campaign season heats up, people close to him said. Trump is slated to kick off his reelection campaign with a rally in Orlando, Fla., next week.
For all of the president’s bluster on trade and immigration, even some of his allies privately acknowledge his approach hasn’t always paid off. Experts have warned that his tariffs on foreign imports, for example, threaten the economic gains he’s seen during his president. Trump has also made little progress on his promise to build a border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. At the same time, illegal border crossings have reached a 13-year high, according to government data released last week.
“He’s taken big actions, but he hasn’t always delivered,” the former White House official said. “He needs some victories.”
The president has been trying to rack up victories in recent months with mixed results. Despite the opposition of many Republican lawmakers, he declared a national emergency to speed up construction of his border wall. But most of the money has gone toward upgrading or replacing existing barriers along the border. It also remains unclear when or whether Congress will muster enough votes to green-light one of his biggest trade accomplishments: a new agreement with Mexico and Canada that replaces NAFTA.
Trump has grown sensitive to criticism from Republicans and business groups, who have increasingly expressed opposition to his trade policies, arguing that tariffs cost the U.S. billions of dollars.
The president took particular umbrage with comments made by Myron Brilliant, the U.S. Chamber’s head of international affairs, on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Monday morning. Soon after Brilliant criticized Trump’s “weaponization of tariffs,” the president called into CNBC to respond, bashing the Chamber and saying he may resign his membership in the group as a result.
“He’s not protecting our country. He’s doing a very big disservice,” the president said of Brilliant. “He’s protecting all of those companies that are members that like it just the way they are. And they have companies in Mexico, and they have companies in China.”
The Chamber, in a statement, said, “We recently called on the White House and the Mexican government to come together and reach a deal to protect American consumers against tariffs. We are glad to see that the President is no longer going to impose tariffs on American consumers and businesses.”
It’s not just the Chamber that has clashed with the administration over Trump’s trade policies. Senate Republicans publicly criticized the president’s threat to slap Mexico with escalating tariffs, and even warned that they might try to block him.
Mexico said as part of the agreement it would send 6,000 troops from its newly formed National Guard to the country’s southern border with Guatemala, a move aimed at cutting off the flow of migrants bound for the U.S. border. But the step had already been under discussion before Trump’s threats to slap a 5 percent tariff on goods imported from Mexico.
The deal also involved an expansion of the “remain in Mexico” policy, which forces certain non-Mexican asylum seekers to wait in Mexico pending the resolution of their cases in the U.S.
Senior administration officials joined Trump in defending the Mexico deal.
“I’ve seen some reporting that says that these countless hours were nothing, that they amounted to a waste of time,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during a press briefing at the State Department. “I can tell you that the team here at the State Department believes full-throatedly that this is an important set of agreements.”
Earlier in the day, Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard also noted that his government would consider a regional asylum agreement if the steps his government is currently taking fail to stem the tide of migrants. Ebrard said he believed that was the “very important” part of the deal that Trump teased earlier on Monday, but he suggested that it wasn’t “fully signed and documented,” as Trump had claimed on Twitter.
Trump, during his Monday afternoon event, pushed back on the notion that he was again exaggerating what Mexico had agreed to.
“I don’t think they’ll be denying it for long,” Trump said of the Mexicans, adding, “We have an agreement on something they will announce very soon. It’s all done. It was all done because of the tariffs and the relationship with Mexico.”
The president didn’t offer any specifics.
Caitlin Oprysko contributed to this story.