Kamala Harris photo

Vice Presidential Pool Reports of June 6, 2021

June 06, 2021

Pool Reports by Courtney Subramanian, USA Today

Sent: Reports:
June 6, 2021

VPOTUS travel pool #1 - checking in

Good afternoon from JBA, where it’s a warm 91 degrees.

The pool is awaiting a 2:30pm flight (approx. 4 hours and 20 minutes) to Guatemala City, where VP Harris will hold the first of two days of talks on Monday to discuss the root causes of migration from Central America and Mexico to the U.S. southern border.

Please feel free to reach out with any questions.

June 6, 2021

VPOTUS travel pool report #2 - Departure

VP Harris arrived at JBA by Marine Two at 2:06 p.m. She climbed out at 2:10pm and saluted the marine before walking over. She waved to press before ascending AF2 at 2:11 pm.

She did not stop to talk to press. VP Harris turned and waved before boarding the plane.

Chief spokeswoman Symone Sanders is expected to brief reporters on the flight over.

Staffers on today’s flight: Juan Gonzalez, Ricardo Zuniga, Michael Fuchs (deputy chief of staff) NatSec Adviser Nancy McEldowney, Kate Childs Graham, Mazin Alfaqih (special adviser, NSA), Tina Flourney and Ward Dirksen

We’re looking at an early take-off and we’re wheels up at 2:22pm.

June 6, 2021

VPOTUS travel pool #3 - Return to JBA

Per Symone Sanders:
Due to a technical issue with the vp's plane we will be returning to JBA shortly where the Vice President will switch planes and continue on to Guatemala City.

"It is a technical issue. there are no major safety concerns," she said.

June 6, 2021

VP travel pool #4 - wheels down JBA

We are wheels down at 2:53 pm.

FYI there was an unusual noise that came from the landing gear when we took off but the landing back at JBA was completely normal.

Pool is deplaning shortly. You pooler will keep you updated as we receive more details.

June 6, 2021

VP travel pool #4b - switching planes

Symone Sanders noted VP Harris would be switching planes for the trip to Guatemala.

We don’t expect a significant delay.

Again, I’ll update with more details.

June 6, 2021

VP travel pool #5 - VP return to JBA

One correction from an earlier report: Tina Flourney is not on the trip with the Vice President.

VP Harris emerged from AF2 at 3:06.

She waved to press as she walked across the tarmac to the main terminal.

Asked if she's OK, Harris turned to members of the press and gave a double thumbs up and said: "I'm good. I'm good."

June 6, 2021

VP travel pool report #5b: more comments from VP

Thanks to radio pooler Tamara Keith for the following:

After telling reporters "I'm good. I'm good," Harris said: "We all said a little prayer but we're good."

Pool is waiting inside the JBA terminal.

June 6, 2021

VPOTUS travel pool report #6 - departure take two

After waiting for an hour and 27 minutes, pool gathered under the new plane to await the VP.

She emerged from the terminal accompanied by greeter Lt. Col Neil Senkowski (who greeted her on her initial arrival) and crossed the tarmac. The VP boarded AF2 at 4:20 pm and did not stop to talk to press, but gave a thumbs up and a wave before ascending the stairs. At the top of the stairs, VPOTUS turned again and gave one final wave before boarding.

We are wheels up at 4:27 pm.

June 6, 2021

VPOTUS travel pool report #7 - arrival in Guatemala City

AF2 touched down at 6:18 pm local time (8:18pm ET).

VPOTUS came to the back of the plane and spoke to press OTR for five minutes. She delivered cookies decorated with the shape of her likeness as well as of Air Force Two. The cookies were provided by Cupcake Dreams, a black-owned business in Washington, DC. The bakery owner's name is Aleatra Dimitrijevski.

Senior administration officials held an on-background briefing for about 20 minutes. Your pooler will send a summary and quotes in a follow-up pool report.

Symone Sanders also gave an update on the plane:
"Shortly after takeoff from Joint Base Andrews en route to Guatemala City, the Air Force Two crew noticed the landing gear was not storing as it should which could lead to further mechanical issues. While there was no immediate safety issue, out of an abundance of caution, they returned to Joint Base Andrews where they have all the parts and mechanics they need to fix the issue. Passengers boarded the back-up C32, which is an Air Force Boeing modified 757."

Any further questions should be directed to the public service staff for the 89th airwing.

More to follow.

June 6, 2021
19:29 CDT

VPOTUS travel pool report #8 - Background briefing notes

In addition to the off-record visit by Vice President Harris and the on-record statement from Symone Sanders, the pool received a background briefing by senior administration officials (who spoke on the condition of anonymity) that lasted 20 minutes.

Topline news from the briefing:

--The Biden-Harris administration will announce anti-smuggling and trafficking actions on Monday and they hope to announce additional anti-corruption measures, according to a senior administration official.

--The vice president has had a number of conversations with the president of Guatemala, senior administration officials have had a lot of conversations with their counterparts in the run-up to this bilat tomorrow and they expected to have additional announcements.

--An official said there are no plans to announce additional aid allocation on the trip beyond the $310 million previously announced aid, adding the focus is not going to be on the amount in part because the administration is about to go into the budget cycle with Congress.

--A major thrust of the remarks was that anti-corruption efforts are essential to addressing other fundamental causes of migration – "a direct correlation between corruption and people arriving on our southwest border" -- because the governments cannot deliver services and alleviate poverty if they are not fully functioning.

Transcript summary and quotes:

"In addition to the comprehensive approach to addressing the many causes, it's also a comprehensive approach in terms of building out partnerships… One of the things the vice president has done is – she met with CEOs and issued a 'call to action' two weeks ago now."

The official said the UN will be getting involved and spoke to foreign leaders about building the foundations and trying to work together to address those issues.

Another official pointed out reporting on the proposed $4b over four years, noting "foreign assistance is only part of this." The vice president is trying to get the private sector to "disrupt" the way private sectors work in these countries.

She has a "broader vision" to address the root causes of mass migration.

"We want to focus on where we already have funding and support," the official said. Officials want to talk about areas where they are going to want support around gender-based violence, bringing people from the informal sector to the formal sector, dealing with the security conditions in Central America.

One official pointed out one of the things the vice president would do is fulfilling promises the president made on the campaign trail in regards to corruption. Officials declined to detail further how the vice president planned to address corruption.

"What is more clear now that was even clear in 2014 is that governance is absolutely key to success on anything else we're trying to do on development. If you zero in on what is really making people leave, it's that they don't have a job, they don't have an opportunity, they don't have a future…a large part of that is directly related to how governments operate and what kind of services they're able to deliver to their population," the official said.

"Governance is broad, it means the way that government is executed but it almost means ensuring that corruption and impunity are not sapping resources and energy and…keeping foreign and domestic investment from helping create those jobs," the official said.

The official said what the administration hears from U.S. and international companies and companies on the ground is that "corruption is one of the main reasons that they are strained from expanding their investments in Central America."

"For us it's a direct correlation between corruption and people arriving on our southwest border," the official said.

The administration is clear-eyed about the ground that has been lost combatting corruption over the last four years, another official said.

The official said there's a "profit proposition" to combatting corruption, which is why the vice president is making the broader argument that combatting corruption is not just about putting bad people in jail but giving people opportunity.


Q: How tense are the talks expected to be and how have the tough conversations been receive?

One official cautioned up playing up any "tough talk," noting that the vice president has a "good rapport" with both the Guatemalan and Mexican presidents.

"It is respectful, they respect her, she respects them. They are getting to know one another and have been building and working together," the official said. "It's not like folks are going into a courtroom and they're arguing opposite sides of a case. This is real diplomacy work and diplomacy requires candid, respectful conversation."

"Relationships are supposed to deliver results," another official said, adding that "It's about having a constructive relationship with someone so you can deal with the real issues."

"You don't seek an adversarial relationship and you don't seek a relationship that's just about the friendship. You look for relationships that are about getting business done and that's the receptivity we're getting from the other side," the official said. "They respect that. They see that. They understand that we're trying to get real things done. Of course we have different interests. Of course we have different perspectives, but that hasn't kept us from talking honestly."

Q: What commitments on corruption can we expect?

One official said there are "ongoing conversations" between the vice president and the Mexican president and the Guatemalan president on issues like port security, smuggling networks, going after corrupt actors.

"There is hope for that," the official said.

Q: Diplomatic relations with El Salvador?

On whether the administration has relationships with the other Northern Triangle countries, one official insisted the U.S. has diplomatic relationships with El Salvador and Honduras. "We talk about hard things with all the countries involved," the official said.

A senior administration official said Special Envoy Ricardo Zuniga held a three-hour meeting with the president of El Salvador, which the official described it as an "honest" conversation. The meeting took place on May 17, the official said.

In the case of all three countries, the official said their foreign counterparts understand it is their own populations and not the U.S. who are driving the anti-corruption impetus.

The official emphasized in the Northern Triangle countries "there is willingness to deal with some aspects of corruption but where it starts to touch more national interests and political interests – that's where it gets challenging."

The official said the U.S. has seen a dismantling of the national-level organizations, prosecutors and other anti-corruption groups it had provided support to before the prior administration.

"All we're trying to do is support the local actors," the official said.

On who the vice president will meet with, a senior administration official said Harris will meet with broad range of civil society as well as female and young entrepreneurs "who were not born with opportunity but have been able to lift themselves up."

The meetings will provide a chance to understand what it is that drives people to give them hope to remain at home and what it is that allows them to be successful, the official said.

One official emphasized the trip is not solely about anti-corrupt efforts but also about stemming the flow of irregular migration.

June 6, 2021
19:41 CDT

VPOTUS pool report #9 - welcome ceremony

Pool was ushered into a cordoned off area with members of local press positioned in front of Air Force Two and waited for the Vice President in a hazy but comfortable 72 degrees at the Aeropuerto Internacional La Aurora.

A red carpet positioned in an L-shape was laid out at the steps of AF2 and lined with members of the national honor guard.

Foreign Affairs Minister Pedro Brolo and US ambassador to Guatemala William Popp greeted the Vice President after she deplaned at 6:35 pm.

She walked down the red carpet with Brolo before stopping to wave to members of media. The two then turned and faced each other and placed their right hand over their heart before proceeding down the carpet to the VP’s limo. She climbed inside the limo at 6:37 pm and pool was ushered into vans.

We’re rolling at 6:41pm.

June 6, 2021
19:49 CDT

VPOTUS travel pool report #10 - Arrival at hotel

Motorcade arrived at 6:46 pm local time (8:46pm ET) at the Intercontinental hotel.

Along the way we went through a boulevard full of shade trees and mostly cleared of people aside from some military and other security.

Pool did not lay eyes on VPOTUS before she exited the motorcade.

June 6, 2021
21:25 CDT

VPOTUS pool report #11 - Press briefing at the hotel

Members of the pool and those here for unilateral coverage are waiting for Special Envoy Ricardo Zuniga, Mazin Alfaqih, special adviser to the vice president on the Northern Triangle, Nancy McEldowney, the vice president’s national security adviser, and chief spokesperson Symone Sanders to hold an on-the-record briefing. We are 25 minutes past our expected start time of 8 p.m. local time (10 p.m. ET).

Your pooler will send along updates with notable quotes.

Also I should mention that we are not expected to see VPOTUS again tonight.

June 6, 2021
21:48 CDT

VPOTUS travel pool #12 - Press briefing has started

Symone Sanders started the briefing at 8:26 p.m.before Nancy, Mazin, Ricardo and Juan entered the room and sat behind a long table at the front of the room.

Sanders said the group would outline an overview of what to expect on the ground tomorrow.

Nancy McEldowney:
"She is here as part of this administration's overall effort to restore American leadership around the world," she said of the VP.
McEldowney said while she'll meet with Guatemalan government leaders, she'll also meet with people from "all walks of life" so she can advance a comprehensive agenda "that takes into account the need to grow the Guatemalan economy, to deal with the climate crisis, and food insecurity that has resulted to work to combat poverty, violence and corruption."

Earlier tonight the vice president met with some of the U.S. embassy staff in person and many more virtually. She conveyed a deep gratitude on behalf of the president and she told them how proud she was and grateful for the things that they are doing here to protect our national interests as well as American citizens, McEldowney said.

"Tomorrow she'll meet with Guatemalan community leaders, many of these individuals she met with virtually last month but there will be a number that are new, and these people have incredibly poignant stories to tell," she said.

She will also meet with a lot of innovators, entrepreneurs and young people, young women who are studying to try to have a better future and a number of women who have really faced hardship and have built out businesses of their own, she said.

More TK

June 6, 2021
22:22 CDT

VPOTUS travel pool #13 - Press briefing notes continued

On why VPOTUS prioritized coming to Central America in her first foreign trip, McEldowney said:
"The vice president came here as part of her overall effort to focus on diplomacy with the northern part of the countries in the Northern Triangle in Mexico, and she comes here with a message of hope, of building hope for the people of this region. And she has spoken recently about her empathy for the suffering that many of the people here experience. The result of two devastating hurricanes, many people have poverty they're facing food insecurity. They've been displaced from their homes that were destroyed. COVID has had has just ravage. Many of the world communities, and she came to build out the partnership between our two governments, but also between the people of the United States and the people of color on the first place that she went in but it shows the priority that she places on the strategy that she's building out on the cooperation between our two countries, that it's important we value this place we want to try to be enough."

On corruption announcement, McEldowney pointed to the NSC memorandum issued on June 2 to make tackling corruption a national security priority.

"We are working, that with every country in the world that is part of our global strategy, because we recognize that corruption has such an insidious impact on society, and governments. And so, looking at the impact of corruption is something that we're doing in all of our relationships and it is also a key part of trying to get at the root causes. What, what prompts people to flee from their homes - Part of it is insecurity. Part of it is violence and poverty and homelessness. But another part of it is corruption because people lose trust in the institutions and they feel that they can't get a fair shake as they're trying to proceed through the course of their lives and their businesses."

McEldowney would not share any more on the announcement but reiterated we'd hear from them tomorrow on these actions.

On vaccine diplomacy – Sanders said the VP did call President Giammattei when the Biden administration announced it would start sending its initial 25 million surplus vaccines to countries around the world. As for whether they'll discuss it tomorrow, Sanders said she can imagine that "vaccines are on the table for discussion tomorrow."

On whether progress has been made on orderly channels of migration, Ricardo Zuniga said "one of the most important ways that the administration has wanted to approach this has been not just to deal with the enforcement side, which is important, and is something that is that we're working on, on our part and the countries are doing on their own. We also wanted to make sure that across the, you know, throughout the chain of migrations that people had access to improve protection."

Said the US has a high level of cooperation with the Mexican government and with international organizations to try to help create some of those protection mechanisms. Apart from that, Zuniga said there will be some announcements and "efforts that are going to be made here to extend that capacity to seek protection. Zuniga said the US is working with other countries aside from Mexico and Central America.

"I would say that these things take time and you talk about this number of governments that requires additional effort, but we are making progress on that and we've had very good cooperation from across the region," he said.

Asked again about vaccine diplomacy, Alfaqih said "6 million is just the beginning. "

"When it comes to the vaccine diplomacy, I mean the vice president of course is making phone calls, as in the course of her engagement with foreign leaders that work that President has charged with. But it's important to mention here that when we're talking about vaccine distribution, it is something that has been done by the public health professionals, and it's not being done in exchange for some sort of political agreement so vaccine diplomacy is to highlight that the United States is actually working around the world as a leader in the vaccination efforts," he said

He again reiterated the initial 25 million is "just the beginning," pointing out that they would be delivered by the end of June "as the United States produce excess or has excess supply."

June 6, 2021
22:43 CDT

VPOTUS travel pool #14 - Press briefing ends

Press briefing ended at 8:56 p.m. for a total of 27 minutes.

Thanks to co-pooler Noah Bierman for help. Here’s a link to the audio:
Part 1: https://otter.ai/u/bfk2DsGdrtNihTWFIwS1HFHxvrY
Part 2: https://otter.ai/u/hzBhAkCYVuAJ0ou4KmWj280BvTE

I’ll send a bit more in the next report.

June 6, 2021
22:45 CDT

VPOTUS travel pool #15 - More highlights from the briefing

On why the Central American miners program hasn't begun accepting new applications, Zuniga said "there was a pretty sizable backlog, still from the gaps that were left in that period. So, especially in this period where we are organizing ourselves at a time where we have our own issues related to logistics around the pandemic, there are challenges with getting ourselves up and running, but in fact, we are making progress."

Q: Is the administration stance that the US and Guatemala can truly combat corruption in the region in Guatemala, without an independent commission panels similar to CICIG?

Zuniga said CICIG and the similar program in Honduras both were successful, but that "there's not one specific model. The point is to provide support to the people within the government, or within the institution - judicial institutions mainly – who have the will and the capacity to drive those cases forward."

On why the VP is she meeting with Giammattei and not the attorney general's office, which investigates the kind of government corruption they're talking about and is a target of the Guatemalan president, Sanders sidestepped the question but said the VP has had a number of very productive conversations and meetings with the Guatemalan president and is looking forward to continuing those productive conversations and meetings with some deliverables tomorrow.

Zuniga added that they would talk "clearly and plainly as partners, as countries that have to get along."

In prior conversations in the region, Zuniga said "we talked about the easy things but we talk mostly about hard things."

Kamala Harris, Vice Presidential Pool Reports of June 6, 2021 Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/350234

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