Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), noting “some of us care about the Western Hemisphere,” asked Tillerson if he thought that “Mexicans are criminals, drug dealers, rapists?”
“I would never characterize an entire population of people with any single term at all,” the nominee said. “Mexico is a long-standing friend and neighbor of this country.”
Trump himself had good things to say about Mexicans and their governments at his morning news conference. “Mexico has been so nice, so nice,” he said. “I respect the government of Mexico. I respect the people of Mexico. I love the people of Mexico. I have many people from Mexico working for me. They’re phenomenal people.”
While Mexico has “taken advantage of the United States,” he didn’t blame their government, Trump said. “The government of Mexico is terrific.
In many pre-election remarks, of course, Trump did blame the Mexican government for, as he famously said in announcing his candidacy in 2015, “not sending their best, and Mexicans were bringing drugs and crime and were rapists.”
Among repeated statements throughout the race, Trump said in the first Republican primary debate that “border control people” had told him what Mexican leaders were up to. “Our leaders are stupid…and the Mexican government is much smarter, much sharper, much more cunning, and they send the bad ones over because they don’t want to pay for them, they don’t want to take care of them.”
When Menendez asked whether such comments—which Trump has never repudiated but appeared to ignore during his press conference—would make his job as secretary of state more difficult, Tillerson ducked, saying,:
“We are going to engage with Mexico because of their importance to us in this hemisphere, and we have many, many common issues, common areas of concern.”