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Mexicans Wonder What A Biden Victory Would Mean For U.S.-Mexico Relations

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

They seem like the political odd couple, President Trump and Mexico's president, Andres Lopez Obrador. When he first came into office, President Trump used some memorable anti-Mexican rhetoric and threatened tariffs against Mexico. But over the years, he and Mexico's leader have forged a strong relationship. So now Mexico's wondering, what would Joe Biden mean for U.S.-Mexico relations? NPR's Carrie Kahn takes a look.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: As a candidate, remember, Trump didn't have very nice things to say about Mexicans.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

KAHN: For his part, candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was no fan of Trump's either.

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PRESIDENT ANDRES MANUEL LOPEZ OBRADOR: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: In 2017, he equated Trump's treatment of migrants to Hitler. But fast-forward to last July at the White house, and both men are celebrating passage of the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade pact, and both are heaping praise on each other.

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TRUMP: My good friend, President Lopez Obrador of Mexico, we've had a very outstanding relationship.

LOPEZ OBRADOR: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Lopez Obrador said he wanted the American people to know that their president has treated Mexicans with kindness and respect. While critics at home said the Mexican president was too accommodating, others, like political analyst Carlos Bravo, says Lopez Obrador had little choice.

CARLOS BRAVO: It would be very costly for Lopez Obrador to get in a fight with Donald Trump.

KAHN: Trump had been threatening to slap crippling tariffs on Mexican exports and make the southern neighbor pay for a border wall. Bravo says the Mexican president, known by his initials as AMLO, adapted.

BRAVO: Donald Trump clearly forced AMLO to change his migration policy toward Central American migrants.

KAHN: Using Mexican troops to stop migrants from getting to the U.S. and allowing tens of thousands of asylum-seekers to wait out their claims in Mexico. These concessions have put Lopez Obrador in a good position if there is a second Trump term, says Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, a political scientist at George Mason University.

GUADALUPE CORREA-CABRERA: If Donald Trump wins the election, it's going to be perfect for him because he would have shown his loyalty and he would have made a good bet.

KAHN: A Joe Biden victory might be trickier at first for Lopez Obrador. In what was seen as a snub, he refused to meet with Biden or any Democrats during his summer visit to Washington. Biden, on the other hand, went out of his way on a stopover in Mexico in 2012 to meet with then-candidate Lopez Obrador. Dan Restrepo, a former Obama adviser on Latin America who consults with the Biden campaign, doubts there will be hard feelings.

DAN RESTREPO: If Joe Biden is elected president of the United States, he is going to work to advance the national interests of the United States and not his personal interests.

KAHN: When he was vice president, Biden promoted aid to Central American countries and pressured their leaders to curb corruption in hopes of stopping the migrant flow north. Restrepo says a Biden president would find ways to cooperate with Lopez Obrador on immigration. For their part, Mexicans will be watching to see if a President Biden visits Mexico. Every president since FDR has, except for Donald Trump.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City.

SHAPIRO: And in the days ahead, we'll have other reports from NPR's international correspondents about what a change in the White House might mean for leaders around the world who have forged close ties with President Trump. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.