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How much really changed when Mexico made an agreement with the United States?


President Trump complained over the weekend that he wasn't getting enough credit. The president dropped a threat of tariffs against Mexico, and in exchange, Mexico announced steps to stop migration, including sending troops from their newly formed National Guard to address some migration issues. But the deal includes no clear measure of success. The New York Times reports that Mexico's concessions were steps they were already planning, and Democrats running to replace the president are unimpressed. Here are Bernie Sanders on CNN, Amy Klobuchar on CBS and Beto O'Rourke on ABC.


BERNIE SANDERS: Trump's erratic threats and trade policies are not the way to go.

AMY KLOBUCHAR: I mean, he's becoming the threatener in chief.

BETO O'ROURKE: I think the president has completely overblown what he purports to have achieved. These are agreements that Mexico had already made, in some cases, months ago.

MARTIN: All right, NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is with us this morning. Hi, Mara.


MARTIN: What just happened here? Did the president's threat of tariffs work or not?

LIASSON: According to the administration, they did; according to his critics, it was just a bunch of political theatrics. He created a crisis, threatened to disrupt the economies of Mexico and the U.S. and then declared victory. But if you listen to Kevin McAleenan, the acting DHS secretary, on Fox News yesterday, the president got a win.


KEVIN MCALEENAN: There's a mechanism to make sure that they do what they've promised to do, that there's an actual result, that we see a vast reduction in those numbers.

LIASSON: It's not clear what that mechanism is yet. It hasn't been...

MARTIN: Right, I was going to ask.

LIASSON: Yeah, it hasn't been described. And the big question is, will those numbers come down? That's the measure of success - will the number of migrants come down? And one of the things that we did hear from the Mexican ambassador to the U.S. yesterday is that Mexico had already agreed to one of the things in the agreement, which was to put more National Guard troops on the border with Guatemala and Mexico. Although, in the agreement, they have now raised that to 6,000, so the administration points to that.

They also have agreed to take more - keep more migrants in Mexico while they wait for a U.S. court date; these are asylum-seekers. So that's something that they had already agreed to do, but now they're going to take more.

MARTIN: So what does this mean for the president? I mean, he is involved in some other trade negotiations right now, pretty big ones with China. Is this going to cost him any credibility in those talks? I mean, how does China look at what just happened?

LIASSON: Well, that is an excellent question. Does China look at this episode and conclude that Donald Trump really means business and they should be worried that he's going to slap tariffs on them? Or should they look at this and say, hm, Donald Trump is worried enough about the softening of the U.S. economy as he enters his reelection campaign and he can be forced to back off of terror threats with relatively minimal concessions? So that's the question.

The other question is, politically, he probably gets to get some credit with his base for fighting hard on the No. 1 issue that he cares about - immigration. But was it worth it? Because there are now reports that the business community, Republicans in Congress, are talking about legislation that could curtail any president's ability to use tariffs in this way.

MARTIN: Right.

INSKEEP: Although, we should note - talking about legislation. We don't know if they'll go there yet.

LIASSON: Yes, that's very different than passing it. But the point is, he caused a lot of consternation among some of his key constituents - Republicans in Congress and the business community.

MARTIN: So there is something else to talk about here in Washington - many things - but I'm going to ask you about John Dean - kind of a big name. Democrats have been wanting to hear from him for a while. House Judiciary Committee is going to bring the former Nixon adviser before them to answer questions in their query about whether or not to start impeachment proceedings. What do they expect to hear from John Dean today?

LIASSON: Well, I think they're trying to draw a parallel between Watergate and the Trump-Russia scandals, but they're also calling him because they're - still haven't been able to get Bob Mueller or Don McGahn to testify before them. They're trying to balance the pressure from the left-wing Democratic base to impeach the president and the fact that the public, the majority of the public, is just not there yet.

MARTIN: NPR's Mara Liasson for us this morning. Thanks, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you.


MARTIN: All right, in all of the back-and-forth over the possibility of tariffs, the U.S. and Mexico still do agree on one thing.


MARTHA BARCENA: We are really in front of a humanitarian tragedy.

INSKEEP: Martha Barcena, Mexico's ambassador to the United States, spoke to CBS. Central American migrants to the U.S. actually cross at least two southern borders. Before they reach the U.S. southern border, they cross the southern border of Mexico. So how does Mexico handle migrants as they arrive?

MARTIN: Let's get a firsthand look from reporter James Fredrick. He is in Tapachula, Mexico. This is about 30 minutes north of Mexico's southern border with Guatemala. James, thanks so much for being with us.

JAMES FREDRICK, BYLINE: Thanks for having me, Rachel.

MARTIN: So I understand you have been at an immigration checkpoint just up the road from the border. What are you seeing?

FREDRICK: Well, so there's a couple things, and it depends on where you are here in southern Mexico. So if you go to the actual border itself, it's a river that divides Guatemala and Mexico. And I've been here several times over the last few years, and it looks like it always does. It is very free and easy to cross that river. There's lots of little inflatable rafts that people use to ferry goods and people across the border. I was there yesterday morning, and there were several groups of migrants passing without a problem. What changes - and again, this has been the way for the last few years here in southern Mexico - is on highways going north from the border, there are lots of immigration and police checkpoints. And so I was at a checkpoint yesterday...

MARTIN: We were talking to James Fredrick. He's our reporter who is there at the southern border in Mexico with Guatemala.

INSKEEP: Bit of a difficult phone connection there from...

MARTIN: Obviously a difficult phone connection. We'll try to get James back on the line. In the meantime, we're going to pivot and talk about what has been happening in Hong Kong because it's quite remarkable - protesters thinking to themselves we either get out now, or perhaps we lose civil liberties down the line. I mean, demonstrators were out expressing this very sentiment as they took part in one of the biggest marches in Hong Kong's recent history.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in foreign language).

INSKEEP: People chanting oppose legislation in Hong Kong that would give China a greater reach into Hong Kong. Let's remember here, China holds sovereignty over that coastal territory. But China promised to preserve its institutions when Britain gave up its former colony in the 1990s. One of those institutions was an independent judiciary that is separate from China's. The proposed law would allow for extradition. China could take people across the border into its own much less transparent legal system.

MARTIN: Journalist Tim McLaughlin is in Hong Kong, where he is covering all this, and he joins us now. Tim, thanks so much - thank you for being with us.

TIM MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah. Thanks so much for having me. I appreciate it.

MARTIN: You were out in the march, in the protest. What were people telling you? What was it like?

MCLAUGHLIN: So yeah, I mean, a massive turnout yesterday. Organizers put the figure at, you know, over a million people, the police using a substantially lower figure of about 240,000, probably the - you know, the largest march in post-colonial times here in Hong Kong since 1997. And a lot of the marchers, a lot of people that I was speaking to were not, you know, longtime activists or people that are regularly kind of attending the marches that happen on the weekends here in Hong Kong. A lot of these were, you know, first-time protest goers, people who were out with their families, you know, a few businessmen that I spoke to - you know, not the type of people who I think you'd normally associated with being out in this giant kind of social movement.

INSKEEP: You know, I don't know exactly how many people there would have been. But just looking at these videos of people in this canyon of skyscrapers in central Hong Kong, it's people from one side of the street to the other as far as you can see. It must have been amazing to be out there.

MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah. I mean, absolutely miles of people. You know, I took some photos of, you know, four-lane stretches here in Hong Kong completely packed shoulder to shoulder with people five hours after the march had started, just a seemingly endless, you know, string of people making their way through the city. On multiple occasions, the police kind of gave up trying to hold demonstrators into one or two lanes of the road and, you know, got huge applause as they kind of...


MCLAUGHLIN: ...Broke their line and let people flood into the other sections of the streets.

MARTIN: Tim, let's talk about the substance here. I mean, what would this law do, and what problem do protesters have with it?

MCLAUGHLIN: Certainly. So this would make it much easier for Chinese officials to request extradition of people from Hong Kong into the mainland. And the main issue that people have here is a massive deficit of trust with Hong Kong and with a - sorry - with mainland China and with a legal system that obviously has a multitude of issues. And the feeling is that you could be picked up at the whim of the Chinese government, the mainland Chinese government, in Hong Kong and be shipped over to the mainland, where you'll be held or subject to a judicial system that is not free and fair and open and impartial.

MARTIN: Right.

MCLAUGHLIN: So a tremendous amount of fear here of, you know, Hong Kong being sucked more into mainland China.

MARTIN: Which is not something that residents of Hong Kong appreciate because it is a semiautonomous part of China that independent - that operates independent, for the most part. Would you have any idea why this is happening now, though? I mean, why is China making this play?

MCLAUGHLIN: So Carrie Lam, the chief executive of Hong Kong, said this morning and reiterated a point that she's made a couple times that she's not doing this at the behest of Beijing, although she is of course appointed by Beijing to her position, but that she enacted this - you know, undertook this herself on behalf of Hong Kong. Part of this has been spurred on by a murder that happened in Taiwan. A Hong Kong young man killed his girlfriend there. And there has been some back-and-forth over the extradition process there, although Taiwan has said that they would not request extradition if this new law goes into effect. Obviously, Taiwan has its own, you know, issues with its own sovereignty and freedom from China.

MARTIN: But it sounds like this is moving forward.

MCLAUGHLIN: Yes. There will be another reading of the bill on the 12. But I would expect more protests, already seeing small businesses mobilize, people getting back together talking about what they can do next and talking about taking to the streets again.

MARTIN: OK. Tim McLaughlin, a reporter talking to us from Hong Kong about those massive protests. Thanks, Tim. We appreciate it.

MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah. Thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF SEGUE'S "WESTCOAST TRAIL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.