President Obama Heads to Brazil, Chile and El Salvador

BY David Chalian  March 18, 2011 at 8:34 AM EDT

President Obama; photo by Olivier Douliery/Pool-Getty Images

President Obama greets guests during a St. Patrick’s Day reception at the White House. Photo by Olivier Douliery/Pool-Getty Images.

The Morning Line

As President Obama makes his first presidential foray into Latin America, he does so with a pair of international crises in Japan and Libya far from resolved. (And, of course, there’s that thing about funding the government that needs to be hammered out, too.)

Per the Associated Press:

“Over the next five days, Obama is to travel to Brazil, Chile and El Salvador in what the White House is casting as a mission to build job-creating opportunities for the United States and to address regional security concerns.”

As NPR’s Ari Shapiro reports in his preview of the president’s three-country, five-day trip, White House advisers are downplaying expectations about any concrete deliverables coming back to the Unites States with President Obama next Wednesday.

When the first family arrives Saturday morning in Brasilia, they will find themselves in the world’s seventh largest economy and in a country that’s an increasing growing force on the international stage.

The New York Times raises the curtain on the president’s trip and how he’ll find a far different leader in Brazil’s new president, Dilma Rousseff, than he found in Lula.

Before leaving the White House at 10:15 p.m. ET, the president will conduct local interviews with WSOC Charlotte, WSVN Miami and WPVI Philadelphia from the Map Room to preview his trip and, according to the White House advisory, “highlight the economic benefits of our relationship with the region. North Carolina, Florida, Pennsylvania and New Jersey are four of the top exporting states to Brazil.”

The Senate’s top Republican, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, uses the president’s trip to the region to take to the op-ed pages of the Miami Herald and push for passage of the still-pending Colombia and Panama trade agreements.

The president plans to return to the White House on Wednesday, just in time to mark the one-year anniversary of signing the health care reform package into law.

HALEY’S SON TAKES ON BILL KRISTOL

The AP’s Phil Elliott got his hands on an e-mail sent from Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour’s son, Sterling Barbour, to Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol in which the younger Barbour pushes back on Kristol’s critique of his dad.

“‘I am a private person and don’t want him to run,” Sterling Barbour wrote. ‘I’d prefer not to listen to people like you talk bad about any member of my family. But this decision is bigger than me. If he runs, I will be his biggest supporter.’

“‘But it just makes no sense to me that a conservative man, such as yourself, would have such a blatantly obvious disdain towards my father,’ Barbour continued. ‘Despite your best efforts, if he decides to run, he will likely win the nomination.’

“Sterling Barbour’s comments came hours after Kristol posted a blog item titled ‘T-Paw v. Hee-Haw’ that compared former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty — whom supporters call ‘T-Paw’ — and Barbour, the Mississippi governor, who has a strong Southern accent. Pawlenty has defended the Pentagon budget; Barbour told Iowans earlier this week that there could be cuts.”

And don’t miss this quote Elliott gets from Gov. Barbour adviser Jim Dyke: “I have to say, he makes some good points.”

NEWT GOES NEGATIVE

Everywhere Newt Gingrich went Thursday he seemed to have some harsh words for President Obama.

The former speaker of the House attended a St. Patrick’s Day charity breakfast in Nashua, N.H., where he criticized the president for taking the time to fill out his NCAA tournament bracket on ESPN given all that’s going on the the world, John DiStaso of the New Hampshire Union Leader reports.

DiStaso notes Gingrich compared the president’s bracketology presentation to “Jimmy Carter micro-managing the use of the tennis court at The White House during the oil crisis and the Iranian hostage crisis” and called President Obama “spectator-in-chief.”

Following the event, in an interview with Manchester’s WMUR, Gingrich took aim at the president’s response to the unrest in Libya.

“If the leader of the most powerful country in the world says that, then he better figure out a way to make that happen,” Gingrich said. “If we end up with Gadhafi winning, it will be a direct repudiation of the president of the United States.”

Channeling one former president, Gingrich said: “Theodore Roosevelt said you have to walk softly and carry a big stick. This is a guy who talks loudly and has no stick.”

Gingrich wrapped up his day with an appearance on Sean Hannity’s Fox News program where he reprised his “spectator” and bracket attacks.

He accused President Obama of presiding over “maybe the most passive and out-of-touch presidency in modern American history.”

Gingrich said his “Final Four” didn’t include Ohio State or Kansas, but 4 percent unemployment, $2-a-gallon gasoline, a balanced budget and border security.

On Friday, Gingrich will participate in a panel discussion at the National Press Club in Washington where he’s expected to go after another piece of the Obama agenda: the health care law passed last year.

BUSY DAY

Thursday also happened to be a busy day on Capitol Hill, with the House approving a measure to bar federal funding of NPR and the Senate passing a three-week spending bill to keep the government up and running through April 8.

If you missed one or both items, our coverage is only a click away:

“U.S. House Votes to Cut NPR Funding”

“Shutdown Averted Again After Senate Spending Vote”

Things should slow down on the Hill next week as both chambers are in recess until March 28.

For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

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