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Mexican president faces protest on California trip

Posted: August 26, 2014 5:27 p.m.
Updated: August 26, 2014 5:27 p.m.

California Gov. Jerry Brown greets Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto after his arrival at the Leland Stanford Mansion in Sacramento on Tuesday.

 

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto met Tuesday with lawmakers and swapped praise with Gov. Jerry Brown, but not all legislators rolled out the welcome mat at a luncheon held on the final day of his visit to California.

About 150 people, many waving American flags or holding signs, rallied across the street from the historic Stanford Mansion to call for the release of a Marine who is being detained in Mexico.

At least three Republican lawmakers rejected the lunch invitation from Brown as a way to protest Mexico's incarceration of Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi, who has been held since April after crossing the border with weapons.

A total of 19 Assembly Republicans who planned to attend the lunch signed a letter to Pena Nieto demanding the release of the Marine.

"It's so nice to have teamwork for a change," said state Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, a former gubernatorial candidate.

Donnelly was the only lawmaker to join the protesters on the street.

"The president is here and the governor could just say, 'Could you do me a favor?' But he refuses to," said protester Edward Doolin of Vacaville.

While the demonstrators were kept across the street from the mansion, their chants of "Free our Marine" could be heard at the outdoor wine-and-appetizers reception that was being held for Pena Nieto. The governor, president and lawmakers then dined under an outdoor tent on smoked chicken, locally grown tomatoes and squash, and wine from Napa Valley vineyards.

Brown and Pena Nieto gave celebratory remarks to reporters and attendees before the lunch but did not take questions.

They generally repeated comments they made the day before in Los Angeles. Brown said California and Mexico hold the promise of a "brighter future" while Pena Nieto praised the Democratic governor for his policies toward immigrants "whether or not they have legal status."

Neither spoke about the protesters or addressed the Tahmooressi case.

Some Republican lawmakers, however, were critical of their colleagues protesting the visit of the Mexican president.

State Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, a Republican from Oceanside and a former Marine, said it did not help the process of trying to get Tahmooressi, an Afghanistan war veteran, back to the U.S.

"This is simply not the time to play politics when the well-being of this veteran's life hangs in the balance," Chavez said in a statement.

He said members of Congress were working behind the scenes to resolve the matter.

Assemblyman Don Wagner of Irvine criticized Donnelly directly, saying a sidewalk protest by a member of the Legislature is not an effective strategy.

"We do not need to stand on the street shouting the question when we can attend the lunch and ask the question directly," Wagner said in a statement.

Brown's lunch invitation was sent to every state lawmaker, and it appeared that a majority from the Assembly and the Senate attended. Reporters were barred from the lunch after the opening remarks, raising questions about whether it violated California's open meetings law.

"This isn't a policy meeting; it's a lunch," said Brown spokesman Evan Westrup, when asked why reporters could not attend.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger held a similar event in 2010 that also banned reporters.

Later Tuesday, Pena Nieto is scheduled to address a joint-session of the Legislature. His visit followed a trip to Mexico by Brown earlier in the summer, when the governor discussed climate change and trade.

Mexico is California's largest export market.

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