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Pres. Barack Obama and Canadian PM Justin Trudeau Speak to the Press. Aired 11:30a-12p

Aired March 10, 2016 - 11:30   ET


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If and when it -- that happens, our system's not going to work. It's not that the Supreme Court or any of our courts can be hermetically sealed from the rest of our society.

[11:30:03] These are human beings. They read the newspapers. They've got opinions. They've got values.

But our goal is to have them be objective and be able to execute their duties in a way that gives everybody, both the winning party and the losing party in any given case, a sense that they weretreated fairly.

That depends on a process of selecting and confirming judges that is perceived as fair. And my hope is that cooler heads will prevail and people will reflect on what's at stake here once a nomination is made.

JUSTIN TRUDEAU, PRIME MINISTER OF CANADA: One of the things that is abundantly clear whenever a president and prime minister sit down to engage on important issues of relevance to our peoples, is that the relationship, the friendship between our two countries goes far beyond any two individuals or any ideologies.

I have tremendous confidence in the American people and look forward to working with whomever they choose to send to this White House later this year.


QUESTION: Good morning. This meeting is happening at a unique point in the Canada-U.S. relationship.

President Obama, you have very little time left here.

Prime Minister Trudeau, you have several years to think about and work on Canada's most important relationship.

So I'd like to ask you a longer-term question, maybe to lay down some markers about big ideas, big things that you think the two countries could achieve in the coming years, beyond the next few months, and whether those things might include something like a common market that would allow goods and services and workers to flow more freely across our border.

And on a more personal note, you've had a chance to observe each other's elections campaigns, and now you've had a chance to work together a little bit. I'd like to ask you for your impressions, to ask about your impression of President Obama and his potential legacy, and about Prime Minister Trudeau's potential.

And if you could answer in French, bonus points to either of you, but we'd be especially keen to hear Prime Minister Trudeau do so.

Thank you.

TRUDEAU: Thank you, Alex.

First of all, we very much did engage on big issues throughout our conversations and throughout our hard work this morning and over the months leading to this meeting today -- issues that are of import not just to all of our citizens, but to the entire world, whether it's how we ensure that there is no contradiction between a strong economy and a protected environment; and to understand how we work together as individual countries, but indeed as a planet, to address the challenges of climate change; how we continue to seek to ensure security for our citizens here at home, but also create stability and opportunity and health security for people around the world facing pandemics and violence and issues.

These are big issues that Canada and the U.S. have always been engaged on in various ways over the past decades and centuries, and indeed will continue to. One of the things that we highlight is the fact that we have different scales, different perspectives on similar issues and on shared values is actually a benefit in that we can complement each other in our engagement with the world and our approach to important issues.

So I look forward to many, many, many more years. It will certainly outlive the both of us, of a tremendous and responsible and effective friendship and collaboration between our two countries.

(THROUGH TRANSLATOR): The topic of our discussions this morning have been what is at stake -- climate change, security in the world, our commitment towards the most vulnerable populations. Canada and the United States are lucky countries in many ways. They will always have a lot to do in order to be together in the world. And this is what we going to keep on doing in the years and the decades to come, and we hope in the centuries to come.

TRUDEAU (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): About President Obama, I've learned a lot from him. He is somebody who is a deep thinker. He's somebody with a big heart, but also a big brain. And for me to be able to count on a friend who has lived through many of the things that I'm about to encounter on the political stage, on the international stage. It's a great comfort to me. And it is always great to have people that you can trust, people that you can count on personally, especially when you are facing very big challenges such as we are doing right now in the United States and Canada.

(SPEAKING ENGLISH): Always pleased to hear from President Obama how he has engaged with difficult issues of the past, because he is a man of both tremendous heart and tremendous intellect.

And being able to draw on his experience and his wisdom as I face the very real challenges that our countries, and indeed, our world will be facing in the coming years is something that I appreciate deeply about my friend Barack.

OBAMA: Well, Alex (ph), was it? Let me just note, first of all, that the tenor of your question seems to imply that I'm old and creaky.


QUESTION: Not the tenor of my answer, I hope.

OBAMA: No. You managed it well. But don't think I didn't catch that.

It is true, I think I've said before that, in my congratulatory call, I indicated to him that if, in fact, you plan to keep your dark hair, then you have to start dying it early. You hit a certain point, it's too late. You'll be caught. But look, I think Justin and his delegation -- because one of the things we learn very rapidly in these jobs is that this is a team effort, not a solo act -- they're bringing the right values, enormous energy, enormous passion and commitment to their work.

And perhaps most importantly, it's clear that they are keenly interested in engaging Canadian citizens in the process of solving problems. And I think that's how democracies are supposed to work. And their instincts are sound. And that's reflected in the positive response to the work that they've done so far. And I think that will carry them very far. And Justin's talent and concern for the Canadian people and his appreciation of the vital role that Canada can play in the larger world is self-apparent. He is, I think, going to do a great job. We're looking forward to partnering with him. We're glad to have him and his team as a partner.

And with respect to big ideas -- look, to some degree, you don't fix what's not broken, and the relationship is extraordinary and doesn't, I don't think, need some set of revolutionary concepts.

What it does require is not taking the relationship for granted. It does require a steady effort, and perhaps most importantly, it requires, because we have so much in common, that we recognize, on the big looming issues on the horizon, it is vital for us to work together, because the more aligned we are, the more we can shape the international agenda to meet these challenges.

Climate change is such an example. This is going to be a big problem for everybody. There are countries that are going to be hit worse by it. In some ways, Canada and the United States as wealthier countries, can probably adapt and manage better.

On the other hand, we're also those responsible for a lot of the carbon pollution that is causing climate change. If we don't agree, if we're not aggressive, if we're not far-sighted, if we don't pool our resources around the research, and development and clean energy agenda required to solve this problem, then other countries won't step up and it won't get solved.

That's a big idea. That's a really important effort.

OBAMA: With respect to the economy, you know, one of the things that Canada and the United States share is a commitment to a free market. I believe, and I know Justin does as well, that a market- based economy not only has proven to be the greatest engine for prosperity the world has ever known, but also underwrites our individual freedoms in many ways. And we value our business sector and we value entrepreneurship.

But what we're seeing across the developed world -- and this will have manifestations in the developing world -- is the need for more inclusion in growth, making sure that it's broad-based, making sure people are not left behind in a globalized economy. And that's an area -- that's a big idea for the United States and Canada to work together on, along with our other partners.

If we don't get this right -- if we do not make sure that the average Canadian or the average American has confidence that the fruits of their labor, their -- the opportunities for their children are going to continue to expand over time, if they see societies in which a very few are doing better and better and the middle class and working people are falling further and further behind, that destabilizes the economy, it makes it less efficient, it makes it less rapid in its growth, but it also starts destabilizing our politics and our democracies.

And so working together to find effective ways, not to close off borders, not to pretend that somehow we can shut off trade, not to, you know, forget that we are ourselves nations of immigrants and that diversity is our strength, but rather to say, yeah, the world is big and we are going to help shape it and we're going to value our openness and our diversity and the fact that we are leaders in a global supply chain, but we're going to do so in ways that make sure everybody benefits.

That's important work we're going to have to do together, and I know Justin shares that commitment just as I do. Margaret Brennan?

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. Some of your critics have pointed to the incredibly polarized political climate as -- under your administration -- as contributing to the rise as someone as provocative as Donald Trump. Do you feel responsibility for that, or even some of the protectionist rhetoric from some Democratic candidates?

Do you have a timeline when you might make a presidential endorsement? And to follow my colleague's question here, do you feel political heat is constraining your pool of viable Supreme Court nominees? Thank you. OBAMA: It's a three-fer. I think it's important for me to nominate a Supreme Court nominee quickly because I think it's important for the Supreme Court to have its full complement of justices. I don't feel constrained in terms of the pool to draw from or that I'm having to take shortcuts in terms of the selection and vetting process.

With respect to your first question, I've actually heard this argument a number of times. I have -- I have been blamed by Republicans for a lot of things, but being blamed for their primaries and who they're selecting for their party is novel.


Look, I've said -- I said at the State of the Union that one of my regrets is the degree to which polarization and the nasty tone of our politics has accelerated rather than waned over the course of the last seven-and-a-half years, and I do all kinds of soul searching in terms of are there things I can do better to make sure that we're unifying the country.

OBAMA: But I also have to say, Margaret, that, objectively, it's fair to say that the Republican political elites and many of the information outlets -- social media, news outlets, talk radio, television stations -- have been feeding the Republican base, for the last seven years, a notion that everything I do is to be opposed; that cooperation or compromise somehow is a betrayal; that maximalist, absolutist positions on issues are politically advantageous; that there is a them-out-there and an us -- and them are the folks who are causing whatever problems you're experiencing.

And the tone of that politics, which I certainly have not contributed to -- I have not -- you know, I don't think that I was the one to prompt questions about my birth certificate, for example.

I don't remember saying, hey, why don't you ask me about that?

Why don't you question whether I'm American or whether I'm loyal or whether I have America's best interests at heart?

Those aren't things that were prompted by any actions of mine.

And so what you're seeing within the Republican Party is, to some degree, all those efforts, over a course of time, creating an environment where somebody like a Donald Trump can thrive. You know, he's just doing more of what has been done for the last seven and a half years.

And in fact, in terms of his positions on a whole range of issues, they're not very different from any of the other candidates. And it's not as if there's a massive difference between Mr. Trump's position on immigration and Mr. Cruz's position on immigration.

Mr. Trump might just be more provocative in terms of how he says it but the actual positions aren't that different. For that matter, they're not that different from Mr. Rubio's positions on immigration, despite the fact that both Mr. Cruz and Mr. Rubio, their own families, are the products of immigration and the openness of our society.

So I am more than happy to own the responsibility as president, as the only officeholder who is elected by all the American people, to continue to make efforts to bridge divides and help us find common ground.

As I've said before, I think that common ground exists all across the country. You see it every day in how people work together and live together and play together and raise their kids together.

But what I'm not going to do is to validate some notion that the Republican crack-up that's been taking place is a consequence of actions that I'm -- I've taken. And I -- what's interesting -- I'll just say one last thing about this -- there are thoughtful conservatives, who are troubled by this, who are troubled by the direction of their party.

I think it is very important for them to reflect on what it is about the politics they've engaged in that allows the circus we've been seeing to transpire and to do some introspection because, ultimately, I want a -- an effective Republican Party.

I think this country has to have responsible parties that can govern and that are prepared to lead and govern, whether they're in the minority or in the majority, whether they occupy the White House or they do not.

OBAMA: And I've often said, I want a serious, effective Republican Party, in part to challenge some of the blind spots and dogmas in the Democratic Party. I think that's useful. You mentioned trade, for example. I believe that there have been bad trade deals on occasion in the past that oftentimes they have served the interests of global corporations, but not necessarily served the interests of workers.

But I'm absolutely persuaded that we cannot put up walls around a global economy, and that to sell a bill of goods to the American people and workers that if you just shut down trade, somehow your problems would go away, prevents us from actually solving some of these big problems about inequality and the decline of our manufacturing base and so on.

And that's an area where some traditional conservatives and economists have had some important insights. But they can't be presented effectively if it's -- if it's combined with no interest in helping workers and busting up unions, and providing tax breaks to the wealthy, rather than providing help to folks who are working hard and trying to pay the bills.

And certainly, it's not going to be heard if it's coupled with vehement anti-immigrant sentiment that betrays our values. OK?


OBAMA: I think that the Democratic voters are doing just fine working this out. I think it's useful that we've had a vigorous debate among two good people who care deeply about our country and who, you know have fought hard on behalf of working people in this country for a long time.

I think it's been a good conversation. My most important role will be to make sure that after the primaries are done, I'm bringing everybody together so that we focus on winning the general election.

QUESTION: Mr. President, I'll be asking the prime minister my question in French, but I will repeat it for you in English afterwards.

(THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Mr. Trudeau, you have not talked about softwood lumber. It's a major problem for the bilateral relations. Have you thought about solutions to avoid (inaudible) conflict reopens in October. And you signed several agreements -- trade, environment. But what can you do so that the implementations survive the November election, and that all of this has to be re-started a year from now?

(SPEAKING ENGLISH): (inaudible) did you discuss the issue of softwood lumber, which is looming over the bilateral relation? And has any avenue been explored into avoiding a new conflict in October? And to what extent is the fear of losing seats for the Democrats due to this issue, kind of hampering progress on this?

And that being said, you and Prime Minister Trudeau have signed a number of agreements on a number of issues. What can be done for this progress not to be lost with the arrival of a new administration, and have everything have to be started all over again?

TRUDEAU (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): (inaudible) this morning we worked very hard and we made a lot of progress. And we have shared what is at stake -- a lot is at stake. And we hope that this is going to be solved shortly to help not only Canadian workers and Canadian economy, but also the economy of both our countries.

And among these discussions, we, of course, we raised the question of softwood lumber. We keep on working on that. And I'm totally confident that we are on the right track towards a solution in the next weeks and months to come.

TRUDEAU (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Now, in terms of the decisions that we have taken, and the work we have done today, I'm extremely confident that what we have managed to achieve, the agreements that we have taken and the solutions that we have found for the problems that we face together, I'm confident that all this is going to become a reality.

Because at every stage, not only we're talking about what is good for one side or the other side, but we're talking about what is good for both countries. Our economies are so interwoven, our population so interconnected, that we are going to have agreement, for instance, that will facilitate crossing of borders, while increasing security of our citizens. This is good for both sides. And it is where we worked so hard together with a lot of progress and a lot of success today.

(SPEAKING ENGLISH): We discussed and worked on many different issues over the course of an extremely productive meeting this morning. Issues that have been worked on intensely by our respective friends, colleagues and delegations over the past weeks and months.

And certainly, Softwood Lumber came up, and I'm confident that we are on a track towards resolving this irritant in the coming weeks and months. But in general, the issues that we made tremendous progress on, I'm extremely confident will move forward in a rapid and appropriate fashion, because we found such broad agreement on issues that aren't just good for one of our two countries, but indeed, both of our countries.

For Canadians and Americans, for their jobs. For our kids and their futures. For workers and businesses, as we tackle the challenges on the economy, challenges on the environment and understand that working together in constructive, productive ways is exactly what this relationship, and indeed, this friendship is all about.

So, I'm feeling extremely good about the hard work that was done this morning, and indeed, about the work remaining to do over the coming weeks and months on the issues we brought forward today.

OBAMA: This issue of Softwood Lumber will get resolved in some fashion. Our teams are already making progress on it. It's been a long standing bilateral irritant, but hardly defines the nature of the U.S.-Canadian relationship. And we have some very smart people and they'll find a way to resolve it.

Undoubtedly, to the dissatisfaction of all parties concerned, because that's the nature of these kind of things, right? Each side will want 100 percent and we'll find a way for each side to get 60 percent or so of what they need, and people will complain and grumble, but it will -- it will be fine.

And in terms of continuity, one thing I will say, you know, this is an area where I'll play the elder statesman. And as Alex described me.


And as somebody who came in after an administration that, politically, obviously saw things very differently than I did. You know, what you discover is that for all the differences you may have in your political parties, when you're actually in charge, then you have to be practical.

And you do what is needed to be done and what's in front of you. And one of the things that is important for the United States, or for Canada or for any leading power in the world is to live up to its commitments and to provide continuing momentum on efforts, even if they didn't start under your administration.