Aboard Air Force one
En Route Mexico City, Mexico
11:32 A.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Fire away.
Q: We're hearing that some of the Afghan presidential candidates are being invited over to talk to Holbrooke next week, and maybe some other people. Is there any chance that they'll be meeting with the President, or what's the purpose of the visit?
MR. GIBBS: Let me check on that with both the White House and State Department and see. As part of the ongoing -- as part of the review of the ongoing policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, we started regular contact groups as a part of that. So let me see if this is above and beyond that.
Q: Robert, I had a couple questions about the trip. Beyond reengaging leaders in the hemisphere, is there anything specific that President Obama wants to come out of both the Mexico trip and the broader summit with?
MR. GIBBS: Well, you know, as I've characterized this before, first and foremost it is to reengage, it is to listen, to learn, and to help lead. I think the topics that are on the docket in many ways are very similar for both the summit and for the trip today to Mexico.
First and foremost is the economy, the global economic crisis, and what should be done to help it. I think one of the things that came out of the G20 was an increase in the ability through the IMF for lending to help economies, particularly those that are dependent on exports. And if I'm not mistaken, the first loan from IMF went to Mexico, so I think that continued discussions about the economy obviously will be a big part of this.
In both Mexico and at the summit, energy and climate change will be important conversations that are had. And undoubtedly in both we'll talk about safety and security, first and foremost here in Mexico with the initiative that Congress and the administration -- both administrations, the previous administration and our administration, have undertaken. There's money in the supplemental bill for equipment to help the Mexican government fight the drug cartels. As you know, Secretary Napolitano released a plan for border security a couple of weeks ago, and we'll build on some of that today.
So I think those are all the things that are sort of on the docket for the next -- discussion points for the next few days.
Q: Those are the priority issues. In terms of framing expectations, is the U.S. looking for any specific outcomes -- should we be looking for any specific outcomes?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think this is our first trip to the region; I think you'll -- I think we're hopeful to begin a relationship that we think will last a long time, to strengthen our relationship, to have the countries of this part of the world understand that they have a strong partner in the United States. And that I think is part of that larger reengagement.
Q: First of all, just for the record, I'd like to voice my objection to this being off camera, on behalf of the TV people.
President Obama has said that it's --
MR. GIBBS: To be on camera, Jake, you'd have to comb your hair. (Laughter.)
Q: No, I wouldn’t --
MR. GIBBS: -- for the record.
Q: -- the camera would be on you. The camera would be on you.
Q: It's the Air Force One look. (Laughter.)
Q: The President wants to stem the flow of guns going south of the border. It doesn’t seem as though that this administration is willing to do much or spend much politically to pass any new guns laws. What can be done to stem the flow, as you've said is your goal?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think, first and foremost, it is to enforce particularly the laws that we have on the books, especially those related to the trafficking of arms. You'll hear the President talk about this today, I'm sure. Attorney General Holder and Secretary Napolitano attended a conference on arms trafficking in this region, dealing with this region of the world over the past few weeks. The Department of Justice is relocating agents to the border to ensure that the trafficking of arms doesn’t happen. And you'll see the President talk today about ensuring that there's a strong and strict review of all of our laws and regulations relating to movement of arms south of the border.
I think obviously part of what Secretary Napolitano outlined a few weeks ago demonstrates our commitment to far stronger inspections of items that are moving from north to south, as well as moving from south to north.
Q: Is the President going to bring any particular new initiatives? As you said, there has been some new stepped-up enforcement already announced. Is there anything new that he's going to bring today?
MR. GIBBS: Just to focus on some of that, he'll discuss, again, and I'm sure he'll go over the fact that, in the supplemental, there's money for Black Hawk helicopters to help the Mexican government, and talk about this -- talk about the review of existing law to ensure that arms trafficking is controlled.
Q: And do you expect any movement on the trucking issue today?
MR. GIBBS: No, I think we're continuing to work on that issue and get an agreement that upholds our commitment in NAFTA. And that's something that we're working on with members of Congress to ensure that we can get a continuation of a demonstration program that meets their needs as well as our international obligations.
Q: Does the President plan on bringing up renegotiating NAFTA today?
MR. GIBBS: I think they talked about this when they met in January, and I think -- I assume trade will be on the agenda, yes.
Q: To be clear, there's no -- President Obama has no new message on the trucking issue? And also, did the Department of Transportation yesterday submit a plan or principles of a trucking plan?
MR. GIBBS: Let me check on the DOT thing. Let me check on that. I mean, again, we're continuing to work with Congress on this issue.
Q: So President Obama has nothing new to say in the meeting today on trucking?
MR. GIBBS: -- on DOT, with what -- if there is anything new on that.
Q: On the Merida money, I think that some of the -- some of the money that you've already talked about releasing is from the Merida program, correct? Are you -- do you have any new initiatives in that -- since that's been one of their main complaints, as I understand it, is that that money has not rolled quickly enough -- are you going to go beyond what you've already said, or --
MR. GIBBS: No, I think -- look, in the Merida Initiative, our administration and the previous administration and Congress have worked with the Mexican government and we're trying to ensure that that money and the acceleration of that money gets to where it needs to go as quickly as possible, also understanding that we have to have institutions available to take the size and scope of aid that we're talking about. This was, I think, all told a $1.4 billion aid package, which is a lot of money to come down the pike. And we're working with the Mexican government to ensure that that money gets there as expeditiously as possible and is spent as wisely as possible.
Q: Just to clarify, the Black Hawks you mentioned a couple minutes ago, that's part of the $350 million in the war sup that the President --
MR. GIBBS: Yes, yes.
Q: Okay. And also, I noticed from the schedule that there aren't any scheduled bilats. There are the group meetings that the President is having.
MR. GIBBS: At the summit?
Q: At the summit?
MR. GIBBS: I think there actually are a couple -- let me double-check the schedule.
Q: They said they're bilats, but they wouldn't -- they didn’t tell us who they were with.
MR. GIBBS: Let me check the schedule and we'll get you -- we'll get you a list of who he'll meet with and whether those are -- some of them are group meetings. Some of them -- but I'm pretty sure there are a couple of one-on-ones. Yes, we'll get you a list.
Q: And is Chavez one of the meetings? There's an -- the rumor keeps circulating that he'll have a bilat with --
MR. GIBBS: I will check. I think -- I don't know whether that's in a group meeting or not. I don't think that's a one-on-one meeting, no.
Q: So a lot of your advisors have been -- who have been previewing the Mexico meeting today have really talked about this as showing support for President Calderón and all, and you've talked about that, too. So is this mostly a -- I don't want to diminish it by calling it symbolic -- but symbolic in the sense that he's here to show his support and to talk about what's already been done, or do you anticipate -- I guess we're all trying to get at the same thing. Do you anticipate something concrete beyond that coming out of this?
MR. GIBBS: I think we've spoiled you all in the first 80-some days of this administration that you expect four pieces of news every time this plane rises above about 10 feet of altitude. (Laughter.)
I think this is -- the bulk of this trip, particularly to Mexico, is to show our support to continue to re-engage with a valuable trade partner and a valuable ally. The President will also, as he does on all these stops, meet with embassy personnel. It's one of the largest embassies that we have in the world.
So I think that this trip and the stop at the Summit of the Americas -- I think re-engaging in the world is not necessarily simply a symbolic act. I think it's understanding that we have valuable partners and mutual interests, and it's important that we show and -- show that commitment and demonstrate it.
Q: You mentioned energy before. Can you talk a little more specifically about what you want to discuss in relation to energy and what specific outcomes you might be looking for?
MR. GIBBS: We'll have a little bit more on that for you later on today. But there is -- I mean, obviously Mexico is an energy partner of ours and they're doing a lot and President Calderón is doing a lot in terms of energy efficiency and climate change. And again I think we have to match any progress that we make at home on energy independence and addressing things like climate change with engaging our partners in the world and helping them do the same, or the reduction of one country will only be matched by an increase from another. We'll have some more on that a little bit later, though.
Q: Robert, is this the President's first visit to Latin America?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, that's true. Yes.
Q: In his whole life?
MR. GIBBS: In his whole life, yes.
Q: Has he been to Mexico?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know if he's been to Mexico or not before; I'll double-check. I don't believe he's been to -- but I don't believe he's been to Latin America before.
Q: -- about Mexico?
MR. GIBBS: I'll double-check on that right now.
Q: I'm sorry, I thought that he said that he did go to Mexico once --
MR. GIBBS: I was going to check on Mexico before, but in terms of Latin America writ large, meaning Trinidad, I will double-check. I don't believe he's been to -- I don't think he's been, with a possible exception of outside Mexico, but I'll double-check on that.
Q: You don't have anything further to say on Cuba? Should we expect any more news on Cuba?
MR. GIBBS: No. No, I think we've -- I think we've met our commitments from the campaign on that.
Q: Robert, in terms of stemming the demand for drugs in the United States, what can be done more on that? What does the President want to do there?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think there's -- in stemming the rising tide of illegal drugs, there's obviously two ways to do it. One is there is -- is to try to deal with the problem not just as a -- not simply as a law enforcement problem but also as a treatment problem. And the President has certainly talked about that before. But there's also -- and I think this relates also to border security -- and that is a hefty investment in the recovery and reinvestment plan of additional police officers on the streets of America.
Q: Robert, the unions, and the steelworkers union President in particular, was criticizing today over the fact that President Obama's plane will land at the same time that apparently the Mexican government is busting a strike. And his larger point was an anti-NAFTA message, and he also proposed that Obama needed more people from the manufacturing world as part of his inner economic circle, and suggested a task force made up of the key -- the key -- representatives from the manufacturing sectors. Is that anything that's been talked about?
MR. GIBBS: I'd have to look at those comments. I'm not aware of the -- of what he was talking about initially. I think the President has made a strong commitment to manufacturing in a very short period of time. We've -- some of the -- simply some of the tax credits involved relating to an increase in clean energy jobs spurs manufacturing. So whether it's wind turbines or turbine blades or things like that, I think there's been a recognition of the fact that our manufacturing base has declined and an understanding that with the right incentives we can create jobs and further our goals towards energy independence.
I'll check on the first part of it, though.
Q: What about workers' rights in Mexico and allegations of abuses? Is that something that Obama has brought up or is willing to bring up?
MR. GIBBS: I mean, obviously the President has talked about labor and environmental standards being part of our relationship with Mexico. I'll check on the steelworkers, the strike part. I don't -- that I'm not familiar with.
Q: Back on guns for one second --
MR. GIBBS: On what?
Q: On guns. You've said today and previously we need to enforce the existing laws. Why is it that you don't support the renewal or a -- of the assault weapons ban? I mean, what's wrong with the assault weapons ban? It was in place for several years in this country, supported by a lot of Democrats.
MR. GIBBS: Well, the President's position was known in the campaign: He supports it. The President is also, though, focused on making some -- taking actions to stem the flow of guns moving south that go across the border, but making progress on something that we are likely to see progress on.
Q: Just too politically difficult right now to make that happen?
MR. GIBBS: I think the President believes that we can have a greater outcome in the short term working to enforce the laws that are on our books.
Q: Robert, the dinner tonight, the working dinner tonight, who is it with and what's the focus?
MR. GIBBS: Let me get exact participants. I know there are members of the legislature of Mexico that are there. I think there's about -- I want to say there's about 50 or so people. It will be a continuation of the discussions they've had in the one-on-one meetings with an expanded group of people.
You know, also on the trip are General Jones, Dr. Summers from the NEC. And I believe we're going to meet some others in Mexico that will have expanded meetings; when the President does a one-on-one with President Calderón, they will meet with their counterparts in Mexico, as well. And all of those folks will be at tonight's dinner. We'll get you a little bit of that expanded roster.
Q: President Calderón is going to be there, as well?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
MR. GIBBS: All right, guys?
Q: Thank you.
MR. GIBBS: Thank you.
END 11:51 A.M. EDT