ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The U.S. and Mexico are trying to find a deal to prevent tariffs from taking effect on Monday. Both sides met in Washington today. If there is no breakthrough, everything that crosses the Mexican border into the U.S. will be subject to a 5% tax. President Trump demands that Mexico stop migration across the border.
Mexico's president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has a very different leadership style from Trump. He has only been in office about six months. And to learn more about him, Denise Dresser joins us. She is a professor of political science at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico. Welcome to the program.
DENISE DRESSER: Thank you very much.
SHAPIRO: Americans often view Mexico through the lens of migration and now through tariffs as well. How much of the conversation about Lopez Obrador and his administration is viewed through that same lens?
DRESSER: Lopez Obrador's primary focus since he was elected is a domestic agenda - addressing the plight of 53 million Mexicans who live below the poverty line. It is constructing a political and electoral base. It is centralizing power to carry out a very ambitious program to turn Mexico into a more equal country. He was elected on the basis of shaking up the status quo, and that has been his focus. Foreign policy concerns and the relationship with the U.S. have been secondary, and he would only address these issues if they came to the fore on an emergency basis as he is now being forced to do.
SHAPIRO: So how much interest does Lopez Obrador have in actually meeting President Trump's demands?
DRESSER: Meeting President Trump's demands would be very costly for Mexico because it would entail either deporting more Central Americans than it already does, militarizing the border and going against the grain of his human rights discourse. So if he accepted this, it would be a massive contradiction to the position that he's assumed. It seems that although Lopez Obrador supports the rights of Central American migrants, he is more eager to cater to what Trump demands than to remain consistent to his human rights rhetoric.
SHAPIRO: How worried are Lopez Obrador and his administration about the potential impact of these tariffs if they do take effect on Monday?
DRESSER: The Lopez Obrador administration is extremely worried about the consequences of the tariffs because of the volatile economic environment that Mexico currently faces. When the news surfaced that no agreement had been reached in the first round of negotiations, credit rating agencies like Moody's and Fitch downgraded Mexican sovereign debt, creating a context in which investment will slow down, growth will slow down and the consequences for Mexico's economic outlook could be extremely negative.
SHAPIRO: So is this a trap for Lopez Obrador? Either cave in to President Trump's demands, which are not consistent with his position, or watch these tariffs go up and potentially affect the Mexican economy.
DRESSER: Lopez Obrador is in an impossible situation because he faces a U.S. president that is using Mexico as a political pinata, and the political cost could be very high. And he is putting a newly elected Mexican president in an untenable position where he'll either have to sacrifice his dignity and his consistency or try and save the Mexican economy from what would be severe blows if the tariffs are imposed.
SHAPIRO: Denise Dresser is a columnist and political scientist in Mexico City. Thank you for joining us today.
DRESSER: Thank you for the invitation. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.