Border BFFs: Obama, Peña Nieto Bond as Agendas Remain Suspect

While running for the Mexican presidency, former State of Mexico Gov. Enrique Peña Nieto was criticized for being simply a pretty face from a notoriously corrupt party who couldn't remember the names of books he read or name the price of tortillas.

Today, the president-elect came to Washington and easily bonded with President Obama.

Peña Nieto and his first-lady-in-waiting, telenovela star Angelica Rivera, got to mingle with some of the town's power brokers in advance of his Saturday inauguration, which will be attended by Vice President Biden. “We only send the vice president to inaugurations when the country is really at the top of the list in importance to us,” Obama quipped, eliciting a cackle from Biden.

"I’m very confident that I’m going to establish a strong personal as well as professional relationship with the president-elect, who I know has an outstanding reputation for wanting to get things done," Obama said before their meeting.

Peña Nieto nodded appreciatively as Obama referred to Mexico as "a very important multilateral, multinational leader on a whole range of issues from energy to climate change" and noted "the incredible contribution that Mexican-Americans make to our economy, our society, and to our politics."

"And just as President-elect Peña Nieto’s reform agenda is of great interest to us because what happens in Mexico has an impact on our society, I know he’s interested in what we do as well on issues like comprehensive immigration reform," Obama said. "And I’ll be sharing with him my interest in promoting some issues that are important to the United States, but ultimately will be important to Mexico as well."

Obama congratulated his counterpart on an "outstanding victory." Peña Nieto won with just 38 percent of the vote in a face-off with two challengers.

"I of course wish you great success and I know you have a great task before you, but I know, I trust that you will be doing a wonderful job," Peña Nieto gushed in his remarks. "…I feel so pleased to be able to have Vice President Biden represent you in Mexico."

"We were both congressmen -- legislators, as we say in Spanish -- in our respective congresses in our own countries.  And this means we're very sensitive to the needs of our peoples," he continued.

"In terms of the reform for migration, the migration reform, we do have to tell you that we fully support your proposal, sir, for this migration reform. More than demanding what you should do or shouldn't do, we do want to tell you that we want to contribute. We really want to participate with you. We want to contribute towards the accomplishment, so that of course we can participate in the betterment and the well-being of so many millions of people who live in your country and who are also participating."

As if underlining the real challenges faced by the leaders mugging for the cameras was the grim news this morning that Maria Santos Gorrostieta, a 36-year-old mayor who had survived two assassination attempts from drug cartels, had been kidnapped while driving her daughter to school and found stabbed, burned, and beaten five days later.

Since President Felipe Calderon declared war on the cartels upon taking office six years ago, two dozen mayors have been among the tens of thousands murdered. Peña Nieto's PRI party, which ruled Mexico for 71 years before Vicente Fox's victory in 2000, kept drug violence under control by playing the cartels' game (and allegedly pocketing the benefits).

In a June hearing of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) warned of a "potential crossroads" in the war on drugs with Peña Nieto's election.

"While in power, the PRI minimized violence by turning a blind eye to the cartels. The current president, Felipe Calderon, has changed that strategy and aggressively confronted organized crime," Sensenbrenner said. "Mr. Nieto does not emphasize stopping drug shipments or capturing kingpins. He recently told the New York Times that, while Mexico would continue to work with the United States, it should, quote, 'should not subordinate to the strategies of other countries.'"

"He further emphasized that his priority would be a reduction in violence, not a dismantling of criminal organizations," the chairman added. "By all accounts, this sounds like a reversion to the PRI policies of old."

Peña Nieto said today his government "has set out to reduce the violence situation in our country."

"We have the will to have cooperation, efficient cooperation with respect, respect for our sovereign states," he said. "And of course in terms of the border, we want our border to be a safe, modern, connected border, legal border -- that's exactly what we've set out to accomplish."