The White House on Thursday confirmed that President Trump told Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto he might send the U.S. military across the border to deal with drug cartels and illegal immigration if Mexican authorities do not.
The confirmation comes one day after the White House pushed back on accounts of the conversation, saying reports that Trump “threatened to invade Mexico are false.”
An official told The Associated Press, which on Wednesday published a partial transcript of the conversation, that the remark was meant to be “lighthearted” and came in the context of a "pleasant and constructive” discussion about mutual efforts to fight drug cartels.
“Those comments, while lighthearted, were part of a discussion about how the United States and Mexico could work collaboratively to combat drug cartels and other criminal elements, and make the border more secure,” the official said.
The White House did not dispute the latest account when asked by The Hill. It has not confirmed or denied whether Trump used the phrase “bad hombres” in his conversation with Peña Nieto.
"You have a bunch of bad hombres down there," Trump told Peña Nieto, according to the AP. "You aren't doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn't, so I just might send them down to take care of it."
Peña Nieto last week called off a planned meeting with Trump over his decision to move ahead with plans to build a wall along the U.S. southern border — and force Mexico to pay for it. The White House said the decision to scrap the meeting was mutual.
Trump’s call with the Mexican leader occurred Friday and was intended for the two leaders to patch up their disagreements.
Reports about Trump’s combative tone during conversation with foreign leaders have alarmed many in Washington.
Trump last Saturday lambasted Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over a refugee settlement deal and boasted about the size of his Electoral College victory, according to The Washington Post.
Australia is one of the U.S.’s closest allies and is one of four other nations that participates in the so-called Five Eyes intelligence-sharing group.
Trump early Thursday downplayed talk that the sometimes-combative tone he takes with foreign leaders could damage U.S. relations abroad.
“When you hear about the tough phone calls I’m having, don’t worry about it,” he said at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington. “They’re tough. We have to be tough.”