The State of the Union (SOTU) address can be considered an institutionalized “bully pulpit” for the President of the United States. It is delivered yearly on the last Tuesday in January. As expected, the President forcefully made his case for new proposals to Congress before a primetime television audience.
President Obama’s speech was delivered in the midst of low approval numbers (43 percent), and after what many have termed 2013--Obama’s annus horribilis. Beginning the sixth year of his presidency with his Democratic Party bracing for a potentially tough mid-term election cycle, it is fair to speculate about whether Obama is already facing a premature lame duck status.
For those of us north of the border, we tend to follow the SOTU with keen interest, but very rarely expect to see Canada in the forefront. The battle over the Keystone Oil pipeline project is of interest, but judging from the President’s general statements about U.S. energy, Canadian officials were not given any indication of a decision coming soon. The President spoke of the progress made due to his energy policies, the rising importance of renewable energy sources, and stated emphatically that “climate change is a fact”. For the opponents of Keystone, these comments were likely encouraging. For the proponents, it seems the wait is not yet over.
A record 12.2 million Latinos are expected to vote in today's U.S. election. If expectations hold up, this election will further solidify the importance of the Latino vote and its status as not only the county's fastest-growing population but also its growing political influence. The neck-and-neck race between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney will likely be decided by swing states with large Latino populations such as Colorado, Nevada and Florida.
Buoyed by his executive order of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in June, President Obama leads Governor Romney 73 percent to 24 percent among Latino voters, according to the latest Latino Decisions tracking poll, with 3 percent of this population still undecided. If President Obama meets this projection, he will become president with the highest level of support from the Latino electorate, breaking President Bill Clinton's record of 72 percent support in the 1996 election.
Governor Romney's stances on issues critical to the Latino population, including immigration policy, have been met with less enthusiasm among many Latino voters. As a result, he is projected to fall short of his campaign goal of 38 percent support from this population.
Beyond the presidential election, Latino voters are also being aggressively courted in hotly contested Senate races such as Nevada and Virginia—both listed as toss-ups by Real Clear Politics.
After nearly two decades of tension and ongoing dispute, the United States Department of Transportation yesterday announced the signing of an agreement that will allow U.S. and Mexican trucks to freely transport goods anywhere across the nearly 2,000-mile long U.S.-Mexico border. The new accord formalizes an agreement announced in March by Presidents Calderón and Obama and marks the end of one of the largest commercial disputes to arise between the two countries since the North American Free Trade Agreement came into force in 1994.
An immediate effect of the new accord will be the removal by Mexico of nearly $2.4 billion worth of punitive tariffs that it imposed in 2010 in response to a U.S. court ruling that prohibited Mexican trucks from transporting goods within the United States. According to a statement by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, "the agreements…are a win for roadway safety and they are a win for trade."
The accord resolves numerous safety concerns, which had stymied earlier efforts to conclude negotiations. Mexican trucks will be required to use electronic systems that monitor hours of service and routes and Mexican drivers will be required to take tests that gauge their understanding of English and ability to read traffic signs.
Pro-business groups, which had lobbied hard on behalf of the agreement, responded swiftly to yesterday’s news: "This is a vital program to our region's competitiveness that will foster greater security and increase efficiency at our border, while reducing the cost of business in our region, which ultimately benefits consumers with lower prices," said Kyle Burns, president and CEO of the Free Trade Alliance San Antonio.
Mexican President Felipe Calderón arrives in Washington DC today for an official visit with President Obama and U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner. Calderón’s visit begins with a meeting with leaders of the business community and media on Wednesday, followed by meetings tomorrow with President Obama at the White House and a meeting with Speaker Boehner later in the day. On his agenda, Calderón is expected to discuss key issues including trade relations, immigration concerns, continued support for the Merída Initiative, and security.
Mexican legislators have pressed Calderón to specifically address the issue of arms trafficking as a chief concern for Mexico following the death of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Jamie Zapata on a northern Mexico highway. Although Calderón's visit was planned some time ago, the recent death of agent Zapata has highlighted the security concerns and violence spreading from the border region to other parts of Mexico. Investigation into the death of agent Zapata found that the gun used in his murder was obtained in the U.S. and illegally smuggled into Mexico. Jesús Ortega, president of the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD), affirmed that Calderón must address the need for the Obama administration to do more to stem the flow of illegal arms into Mexico in comments made to Mexico’s El Universal. Other issues causing friction are the anti-immigrant laws passing through several U.S. states, money laundering, and allegations made in recently leaked cables.
At stake during this visit is also continued funding of the Merida Initiative anti-drug aid plan. Calderón is expected to express Mexico’s need for continued support of the initiative to Speaker Boehner, even as the U.S. Congress attempts to cut back on spending.
Calderón’s two-day trip will conclude with a forum discussion on Thursday afternoon hosted by the Americas Society and Council of the Americas and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars where he will discuss the current political and economic situation in Mexico.
From the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
Second Round of Talks Falls Short in Resolving Honduran Crisis
This latest round of mediated talks between representatives of Honduran interim leader Roberto Micheleti and deposed President Manuel Zelaya ended with little solution. Costa Rican President and negotiations mediator Óscar Arias’s proposed a seven-point plan to peacefully reinstate Zelaya, but the Micheleti delegation firmly rejected it. The New York Times’ Ginger Thompson reported Wednesday that a new round of talks would be postponed after Honduras’ current Foreign Minister Carlos López Contreras failed to convince the de facto government to accept terms that would allow Zelaya’s return to power. Rumors of another attempt by Zelaya to return to Honduras repeatedly crop up; CNN Expansión reported Wednesday morning that Zelaya himself is planning his return in upcoming days.
In an AQ blog post, AS/COA’s Christopher Sabatini takes a look at the negotiations, Arias’ plan, and the increasingly isolated situation Honduras finds itself in as countries and multilateral institutions cut large swathes of aid. On Monday, the European Union followed suit, suspending $92 million in financial aid to Honduras, reports the European Voice.
Access AS/COA’s resource guide to the Honduran crisis.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.