The Washington Post

What did we learn about Obama’s thinking in Mexico?

President Obama flies home Saturday afternoon after a three-day trip to Mexico and Costa Rica that focused on economic trade and security  and touched on immigration. But in several appearances and news conferences, we learned about Obama’s thinking on a few critical issues in the United States.

President Obama

1. Obama thinks sexually active 15-year-old girls should be able to buy emergency contraception without consulting an adult.

 The Food and Drug Administration last week approved over-the-counter distribution of the morning-after pill, also known as Plan B, for women ages 15 and over. At the same time, the Justice Department appealed a federal court ruling requiring that Plan B be made available to girls and women of all ages.

The court order came after a decision in December 2011 by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to overrule FDA scientists, who had concluded that the pill was safe to distribute over the counter to women and girls of all ages.

At the time, invoking his own daughters, Obama said he supported Sebelius’s decision.

Asked about the new FDA action at a news conference in Mexico City, Obama said he was fine with it.

“The first time around, where there were no age restrictions, Secretary Sebelius expressed concerns and I supported those concerns,” Obama said, adding that now “I’m very comfortable with the decision they’ve made right now based on solid scientific evidence for girls 15 and older.”

2. He feels impassioned about trying again on guns.

Obama chimed in when Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto was asked about U.S. gun policy, insisting that he will try again to tighten gun laws despite the Senate’s rejection of a fairly modest background-checks bill last month.

“What I’m most moved by are the victims of gun violence, not just in Mexico, but back home -- like the parents in Newtown,” Obama said. The failure of the Senate bill “was not the end; this was the beginning.”

Obama noted it took six to eight tries the last time gun legislation passed in Washington. “Things happen somewhat slowly in Washington, but this is just the first round, he said. “One thing I am is persistent.”

The remarks recalled Obama’s first trip to Mexico four years ago, when he was asked about whether he would try to reinstate a ban on assault weapons.

He replied that he supported such a ban, but it would be difficult.

“I have not backed off at all from my belief that the gun -- the assault weapons ban -- made sense,” Obama said then. “Having said that, I think none of us are under any illusion that reinstating that ban would be easy. And so, what we've focused on is how we can improve our enforcement of existing laws, because even under current law, trafficking illegal firearms, sending them across a border, is illegal. That's something that we can stop.”

3. Obama will sign any immigration bill that fits the basic criteria he has laid out, even if it falls far short of meeting all the provisions he supports, including one assuring gays and lesbian of equal treatment.

Obama said in Mexico that the current bill is a good start, even if it “doesn’t contain everything I want, and I suspect that the final legislation will not contain everything I want.  It won't contain everything that Republican leaders want, either.”

But he added that if it meets all his basic thresholds, “that's the core of what we need.” His basic criteria include enhanced border security, a crack down on employers who do not follow immigration law, a streamlining of the legal immigration system and a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants in the country.

In Costa Rica the next day, Obama said he supports a provision that would grant LGBT couples the same immigration rights as straight couples. But he made clear it is not a make-or-break requirement.

“I’ve said in the past that the LGBT community should be treated like everybody else.  That's, to me, the essential, core principle behind our founding documents,” Obama said.

However, he added, “as is true with every bill, if there are things that end up being left out in this bill, … then we go back at it and we fix what’s not there.”

4. Obama wants international support for any significant escalation of the U.S. role in Syria and sees virtually no way that would include the involvement of U.S. ground troops.

In Costa Rica, Obama went out of his way to make this point after neglecting to answer a question about the potential use of ground troops. The United States is now considering a range of options to help the Syrian opposition after evidence emerged that chemical weapons were used in Syria, though officials have cautioned the evidence is still being assessed.

Obama said that if officials determine that chemical weapons were used in a systematic way in Syria, “we will present that to the international community, because I think this is, again, not just an American problem; this is a world problem.”

Asked about ground troops, he said that generally he doesn’t “rule things out as commander-in-chief because circumstances change and you want to make sure that I always have the full power of the United States at our disposal.”

But he said he does “not foresee a scenario in which boots on the ground in Syria, American boots on the ground in Syria, would not only be good for America, but also would be good for Syria.” He said he hears the same from leaders in the region who want to see an end to the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

5. Obama isn’t optimistic that the big new policy idea of his second term -- free early-childhood education for all 4-year-olds from poor and moderate income families -- will make it through Congress.

Obama has proposed increasing cigarette taxes to pay for the expansion, which would cost nearly $80 billion over 10 years, but didn’t evince much confidence it would happen when asked about the idea at a forum in Costa Rice.

“Whether we’re going to be able to get that passed or not, I don’t know,” he told said. ”It’s always a struggle to get new revenues for new endeavors.”

But he said he was confident of the value of the idea.

“There’s no bigger bang for the buck than making this investment in early-childhood education,” the president said.



Zachary A. Goldfarb is policy editor at The Washington Post.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Show Comments
The Democrats debated Thursday night. Get caught up on the race.
The Post's Chris Cillizza on the Democratic debate...
On Clinton: She poked a series of holes in Sanders's health-care proposal and broadly cast him as someone who talks a big game but simply can't hope to achieve his goals.

On Sanders: If the challenge was to show that he could be a candidate for people other than those who already love him, he didn't make much progress toward that goal. But he did come across as more well-versed on foreign policy than in debates past.
The PBS debate in 3 minutes
We are in vigorous agreement here.
Hillary Clinton, during the PBS Democratic debate, a night in which she and Sanders shared many of the same positions on issues
South Carolina polling averages
Donald Trump leads in the polls as he faces rivals Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz heading into the S.C. GOP primary on Feb. 20.
South Carolina polling averages
The S.C. Democratic primary is Feb. 27. Clinton has a significant lead in the state, whose primary falls one week after the party's Nevada caucuses.
62% 18%
Fact Checker
Trump’s claim that his border wall would cost $8 billion
The billionaire's claim is highly dubious. Based on the costs of the Israeli security barrier (which is mostly fence) and the cost of the relatively simple fence already along the U.S.-Mexico border, an $8 billion price tag is simply not credible.
Pinocchio Pinocchio Pinocchio Pinocchio
The complicated upcoming voting schedule
Feb. 20

Democrats caucus in Nevada; Republicans hold a primary in South Carolina.

Feb. 23

Republicans caucus in Nevada.

Feb. 27

Democrats hold a primary in South Carolina.

Upcoming debates
Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Feb. 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

March 3: GOP debate

on Fox News, in Detroit, Mich.

Campaign 2016
Where the race stands

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.