Republicans question Mexico's stability in border security push

Republicans question Mexico's stability in border security push
© Greg Nash

Leading Republicans are questioning the stability and security situations in Mexico in a push for more border security. 

White House chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE was said to have compared Mexico to Venezuela at a meeting between President Trump and Democratic leaders Wednesday in the context of a discussion about appropriate border security. 

And Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanGOP lambasts Trump over performance in Helsinki Trump stuns the world at Putin summit Former Trump aide says he canceled CNN appearance over 'atrocious' Helsinki coverage MORE (R-Wis.) echoed the comments Friday on WISN, a Wisconsin radio station.

"There is a massive deterioration on the southern side of our southern border," said Ryan, arguing in favor of greater border enforcement that would include President Trump's proposed wall.  

A person briefed on the White House meeting told The Hill that Kelly equated the two Latin American countries as failed states.

However, a White House official on Friday denied that Kelly compared Mexico to Venezuela, calling it "completely untrue."

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Pelosi and Schumer were at the White House Wednesday to discuss a potential deal to replace the rescinded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. 

The New York Times first reported on Kelly's statements, made during a dinner that included Trump, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.).

The Times said that Kelly likened Mexico to Venezuela under the regime of former leader Hugo Chávez, and that it was on the verge of collapse. 

Christopher Wilson, the deputy director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center, said the strong rhetoric, particularly the comparison to Venezuela, could diminish valuable cooperation with Mexico.

"While Mexico’s challenges are very real and serious, if Mexico is in fact being compared to Venezuela inside the White House and is thought to be on the verge of collapse, that is both incorrect and dangerous," said Wilson.

"Mexico works closely with the United States to prevent terrorism, fight drug trafficking, and manage migration — I don’t think the same can be said of Venezuela. To continue, that type of cooperation needs to be valued and nurtured," he added.

Mexican Ambassador Gerónimo Gutiérrez told Reforma newspaper Friday that the White House informed him that the Times's reporting on Kelly's remarks didn't "reflect the vision nor what was expressed by Kelly" at the dinner.

Gutiérrez added that "any additional clarification" should be made by those present at the meeting.

The comparison between Mexico and Venezuela comes weeks after Mexico and the United States led a regional coalition in challenging Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro for his move to elect a Constitutional Assembly.

While Mexico's homicide rate is at its highest since 2011, its economy has grown — albeit at a sluggish pace — since the 2008 financial crisis. Venezuela's economy has been in a freefall for years.

Updated: 7:05 p.m.