Those words were shouted by a member of the U.S. press corps, as President Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderón left the Rose Garden this afternoon. The official White House press schedule for Tuesday had announced, “The President will hold a joint press conference with President Calderón in the Rose Garden.” But when it was all over, “press conference” seemed far too generous a description.
Once upon a time, Obama used to take “2 and 2” at his press events with foreign leaders, meaning two questions from the U.S. press and two questions from the foreign press. But somewhere between his first trip to Europe and the last trip to Asia, the tradition was shortened to 1 and 1s. Either way, the president, and the foreign head of state, get to choose the questioners.
On Wednesday, Obama and Calderón both gave long statements, filled with careful diplomatic jargon and predictable happy talk. Then Obama said they only had time for two questions, and called on a reporter from Univision, who asked him about the new Arizona immigration law, which Obama had addressed in part in his opening remarks. The president responded with an 1,100 word response, restating his desire for comprehensive immigration reform, restating his concerns about the Arizona law, and offering a challenge to Republicans to work with him. “I’ve got to have some support from Republicans,” he said. “When we made an effort of this sort a few years ago, it was under the leadership of John McCain and Ted Kennedy.”
Calderón called on a reporter for Radio Formula, who was sitting in one of the back rows of the Mexican press corps. The radio reporter reformulated the same question for Obama about the Arizona law, and he asked Obama to comment on Calderón’s battle against organized crime in Mexico, and the issue of U.S. gun smuggling to Mexico. Obama declined to reanswer the first question, and spent the several minutes praising Calderón’s war on the narco-traffickers and restating his commitment to do more on the illegal gun issue. The entire event ended after less than thirty minutes. President Calderón never said a word in response to any reporter question.
The White House, of course, has absolute discretion over the access they give the press to President Obama. But let us consider the range of recent issues that Obama has yet to comment on: The latest Iranian contretemps, the alleged sinking of South Korean ship by a North Korean torpedo, the latest fight in the Senate over banning big banks from the derivatives business, Tuesday’s dramatic primary results, the economic crises in Europe, not to mention more pointed questions about the growing security crises in Mexico, which is punctuated by sky-high rates of murder and kidnapping.
There were hundreds of reporters in the Rose Garden today ready to ask about those issues and more. But they never got the chance.