It has been two days since President Trump claimed in a tweet that there was a secret agreement between the U.S. and Mexican governments, in addition to the deal that was announced Friday to avert Trump’s threatened tariffs.
Speculation quickly turned to the idea that he was alluding to an agreement that would allow asylum seekers to stay in a third country while awaiting their decisions — a “Safe Third” deal. This would mean they wouldn’t be released into the United States, and that would be a very significant agreement, if it exists.
But rather than tell us any more about the supposed agreement, the White House is serving up some word salad.
Press secretary Sarah Sanders was asked about all this Tuesday morning on “Fox and Friends.” Here’s what she could muster:
Look, I’m not going to get ahead of President Trump or the president of Mexico in making further announcements. But we have had discussions. And you can see even in the joint statement that they released, where they said that within the next 90 days, further action could be announced, and that we will continue those discussions. That’s exactly what we’re doing. That’s exactly what we’re talking about. And we’ve already got agreements on the way for other action that will help, again, solidify Mexico’s commitment to stop illegal immigrants from coming across our Southern border.
Sanders is right that the joint statement released Friday does allude to the possibility of further action. But it doesn’t say that anything has been agreed to or is imminent. It says merely that they will be discussed in three months, “in the event the measures adopted do not have the expected results.”
“Therefore, the United States and Mexico will continue their discussions on the terms of additional understandings to address irregular migrant flows and asylum issues, to be completed and announced within 90 days, if necessary,” the statement says.
After suggesting this portion of the agreement is what Trump was talking about, Sanders walks right up to the edge of saying there is some kind of already-existent secret deal.
“We’ve already got agreements on the way for other action that will help, again, solidify Mexico’s commitment to stop illegal immigrants from coming across our Southern border,” she said.
But Mexico has explicitly denied this, with Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard saying Monday, “There is no other thing beyond what I have just explained."
It’s understandable that this is sensitive in Mexico, and that even if there is a secret deal, officials would try to obscure it. Officials have denounced the idea of holding asylum seekers from Central America on Mexican soil. But if it’s so sensitive, why is Trump even alluding to it in a tweet? An asylum deal would need to win legislative approval in Mexico. Why do anything to jeopardize what would be a significant concession from the Mexican government?
More likely, it seems, is that Trump was reacting to poor early reviews of the deal he cut and sought to hyperbolize it. We saw that with a tweet claiming Mexico agreed to up its agricultural imports from the United States. But in that case, Mexico has tried to avoid directly contradicting Trump, instead offering its own word salad trying to explain it.
Against that backdrop, then, the fact that they have explicitly denied this supposed secret agreement is telling. We’ll see if anything is produced, but either way, the White House is playing some very strange games here. And Sanders, as is often the case, doesn’t seem to have any real answers.