MEXICO CITY (AP) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie stepped out on the international stage Wednesday to talk trade with Mexico, but he stayed mum on one of the most pressing questions confronting the two countries and his party: immigration reform.
On a trip designed to help school him in foreign policy and court Hispanic voters should he seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, Christie stuck to economic issues and spoke of a "North American energy renaissance" in which the U.S., Mexico and Canada ramp up investments and do away with "foolish" regulations.
"Too often," he said, "our neighbors in Mexico and Canada have felt that they were an afterthought in U.S. foreign policy. Let me be clear about my view: My view is they should be our first thought, not an afterthought."
But there was no acknowledgement of the need for a sweeping overhaul of U.S. immigration laws, the thorny issue that has vexed Congress and riled American politicians for years. About 70 percent of Latino voters chose President Barack Obama in 2012, and deep divisions remain among Republicans and Democrats over what to do about the 11 million immigrants in the U.S. illegally, as well as a tide of children flowing across the border with Mexico.
If Christie's visit was designed in part to court Latinos and beef up his foreign policy credentials, he was getting competition on both fronts from his potential Democratic presidential rival, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The former secretary of state is scheduled to visit Mexico City on Friday before Christie departs. She is appearing at an annual event hosted by a financial supporter of the Clinton Foundation, billionaire Carlos Slim. The event will honor scholarship students helped by Slim's foundation. Christie will be on a day trip to Puebla, and the two are not expected to cross paths.
But Clinton's plans served as a reminder of the high bar any Republican presidential candidate would have to meet to compete with her on foreign policy. Other potential GOP candidates also are making treks to other countries in pursuit of credibility in that arena.
For his part, Christie spoke in diplomatic terms of the "very special relationship" between the United States and Mexico.
"If world events over this summer of turmoil have taught us anything, it is the tremendous benefits of having as a neighbor a key and friendly partner with whom we share an extensive trade relationship and a deeply shared cultural heritage," Christie said in a lengthy policy speech at an event hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce of Mexico. He also underscored the power of the North American economy, stressing the links with both Mexico and Canada.
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