TOPICS > Politics

Obama Visits Mexico, Housing Market Stumbles

April 16, 2009 at 6:00 PM EDT
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President Barack Obama traveled to Mexico for talks with President Felipe Calderon and newly-released government data showed that new home starts fell more than 10 percent in March.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Our lead story today: President Obama arrived in Mexico for a visit with President Felipe Calderon.

On their meeting agenda, the growing flow of drugs and weapons across the border, and immigration. Both leaders touched on those subjects at a joint news conference held late this afternoon in Mexico City.

Here’s an excerpt of what President Obama said.

BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States: There’s one particular area that requires our urgent and coordinated action, and that is the battle that’s taking place with respect — with respect to the drug cartels that are fueling kidnappings and sowing chaos in our communities and robbing so many of a future both here in Mexico and in the United States.

I’ve said this before; I will repeat it. I have the greatest admiration and courage for President Calderon and his entire cabinet, his rank-and-file police officers and soldiers as they take on these cartels. I commend Mexico for the successes that have already been achieved, but I will not pretend that this is Mexico’s responsibility alone.

A demand for these drugs in the United States is what is helping to keep these cartels in business. This war is being waged with guns purchased not here, but in the United States. More than 90 percent of the guns recovered in Mexico come from the United States, many from gun shops that line our shared border.

So we have responsibilities, as well. We have to do our part. We have to crack down on drug use in our cities and towns. We have to stem the southbound flow of guns and cash.

And we are absolutely committed to working in a partnership with Mexico to make sure that we are dealing with this scourge on both sides of the border.

And that’s why we’re ramping up the number of law enforcement personnel on our border. That’s why, for the first time, we are inspecting trains leaving our country, not just those entering it. That’s why our Department of Homeland Security is making up to $59 million available to defend our common border from this threat to both of our countries.

In addition, as President Calderon and I discussed, I’m urging the Senate in the United States to ratify an inter-American treaty known as CIFTA to curb small-arms trafficking that is a source of so many of the weapons used in this drug war.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We’ll have more on U.S.-Mexico relations after the other news of the day.

Other News

JUDY WOODRUFF: New economic data released today on housing showed no end in sight to the downturn. But in other areas, there were better economic signs. NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman has our report.

KWAME HOLMAN: From housing to jobs, real estate to banks, the numbers were a mixed bag. The Commerce Department reported construction of new homes and apartments plunged last month to the second-lowest level on record.

Housing starts in March slid by nearly 11 percent. Regionally, the largest declines were in the west, at more than 26 percent, and the south, 17 percent.

But construction activity rose about 16 percent in the Midwest and was up 6 percent in the northeast.

A separate report showed the number of Americans threatened with losing their homes grew 24 percent in the first quarter. RealtyTrac, a foreclosure listing firm, said some 800,000 homeowners received foreclosure-related notices from January through March; that's up from about 650,000 a year ago.

The nation's shopping malls also took a hit as General Growth Properties, the second-largest mall owner in the U.S., filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The move was expected and lets the company hold off creditors as it reorganizes.

Along with the bad came an unexpected dose of good news on jobless claims. The Labor Department reported that the number of newly laid-off Americans requesting unemployment benefits fell last week to 610,000, well below economists' expectations.

Still, more than 6 million people claimed benefits for more than a week, the most on record.

In the financial sector, another bright spot: JPMorgan Chase became the latest bank to report better-than-anticipated earnings in the first quarter, at more than $2 billion.

The mixed results led to a mixed up day on Wall Street as markets went up, then down. But as the closing bell neared, the Dow Jones Industrial Average surged, finishing up 95 points to close at 8,125. The Nasdaq rose 43 points to close at 1,670.

JUDY WOODRUFF: CIA officials who used harsh interrogation techniques like waterboarding on terror suspects will not be prosecuted. Attorney General Eric Holder said the government won't pursue criminal charges since the employees were following the Justice Department's legal advice at the time.

The announcement was made as the Obama administration released four long-secret legal memos from the Bush Justice Department authorizing exceptional interrogation techniques against terror suspects.

The U.S. Justice Department today confirmed that a wiretapping program violated legal restrictions to guard against abuse, and a spokesman said new safeguards have been adopted.

The story was first reported in the New York Times. It said the National Security Agency improperly tapped the phone calls and e-mails of American citizens on a far larger scale than the law allowed. Senator Dianne Feinstein, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, announced plans to investigate the matter.

President Obama today called for the quick creation of a high-speed rail system to alleviate congestion on U.S. highways. The system would cover 10 corridors, among them the Pacific Northwest, the Gulf Coast, and a route across the Midwest.

At a news conference in Washington, Mr. Obama said building the rail lines would be faster and cheaper than building new highways, and it would help the environment.

BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States: All of you know this is not some fanciful, pie-in-the-sky vision of the future. It is now. It is happening right now. It's been happening for decades. The problem is, it's been happening elsewhere, not here.

We'll move to cleaner energy and a cleaner environment. We'll reduce our need for foreign oil by millions of barrels a year and eliminate more than 6 billion pounds of carbon dioxide emissions annually.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The president allocated $8 billion from the economic stimulus plan to get plans underway for establishing the rail corridors.

A NATO soldier has died in a bombing in Afghanistan. The blast went off Wednesday in the eastern part of the country. There was no word on the soldier's nationality or the specific location of the attack.

Inspectors from the United Nations' nuclear agency left North Korea today on orders from the communist regime. The monitors had already removed seals and shut down surveillance equipment at the main nuclear complex at Yongbyon. Four American inspectors who were also ordered out are preparing to leave in the next few days.

In Washington, meantime, a U.S. State Department spokesman warned that North Korea will feel the repercussions of its actions.

ROBERT WOOD, State Department Deputy Spokesman: The North Koreans took a decision. They wanted these monitors out. As I said, it's a step backward. We want to see the Korean peninsula denuclearized. This, clearly, is not taking us in the right direction.

The North has not listened to the will of the international community, and therefore it's going to have to face the consequences from its unwillingness to meet the international community's requirements.

JUDY WOODRUFF: A U.N. committee is considering expanding sanctions against North Korea after its recent missile test launch, which violated U.N. resolutions.

The American ship captain held hostage by Somali pirates arrived safely on land today in Kenya. Richard Phillips docked aboard the USS Bainbridge in Mombasa. He is expected back in the U.S. tomorrow afternoon.

Meanwhile, overnight, dozens of family members welcomed the other crew members of the Maersk Alabama. They arrived at a military base in Maryland to happy cheers.