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Very few people could have seen this coming. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump spent a year saying Mexico is not our friend, that Mexico is sending the U.S. bad people, that he would force Mexico to pay for a bigger wall on the border. Today, Trump crosses that border. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.
CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals while vowing to build a wall along the U.S. southern border and make Mexico pay for it has been one of the centerpieces of Donald Trump's campaign. So it was quite a surprise when Mexico's president, Enrique Pena Nieto, tweeted late last night that he had invited Trump to Mexico and that the Republican nominee accepted. As recently as last March in a televised interview, Pena Nieto had compared Trump to two 20th-century fascist leaders.
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ENRIQUE PENA NIETO: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: "This is similar to the strident rhetoric of Mussolini and Hitler," said Pena Nieto.
A presidential spokesman confirmed that today's meeting with Trump will take place in private. The spokesman said the invitation had been extended last Friday to both Trump and Hillary Clinton, although that was not announced at the time. Perhaps hoping to take the moral high ground in the ongoing war of words with Trump, President Enrique Pena Nieto tweeted that he believes in dialogue to promote Mexico's interest in the world and principally to protect Mexicans wherever they are.
It's hard to imagine a political upside to the visit for Pena Nieto. While Donald Trump is widely loathed in the country, the president's popularity isn't high either. A recent poll by the newspaper Reforma put his approval rating at 23 percent. He's dealing with the stalling economy, the Treasury Department just lowered its growth projections yet again. Homicides have spiked to levels not seen since the height of the drug war. Allegations of human rights violations by state security forces emerge with horrifying regularity.
And Pena Nieto has been plagued by a string of personal scandals, including last week's revelations that he plagiarized large sections of his law degree thesis. Pena Nieto is already being ridiculed over his invitation. One tweet said that his encounter today with Trump will be a meeting of the two most unpopular men in Mexico. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.