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Ottawa, Canada

Q    Mr. Vice President, thank you.  There’s a report right now that Trump might consider threatening new tariffs on Mexico if Mexico doesn’t do enough to (inaudible) down on illegal migration, or immigration.  Can you comment on that?  Anything — any new tariffs on Mexico or threat of them?  What are the chances of USMCA being ratified in Mexico?

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Well, first, before I address that, let me just speak about our day here in Canada.  We completed productive discussions with Prime Minister Trudeau, his senior team, and his advisory group.  And as I’m sure you all have heard, today, our administration sent to Capitol Hill a statement of administration action — which begins the clock, a 30-day clock, wherein we will work with members of Congress in both parties, formulate the implementing legislation, and send that legislation, as we discussed earlier, to Capitol Hill in the coming weeks.

We sense real momentum in this relationship and great support not only here in Canada, but all across the United States, for the USMCA.

As I said earlier today, and as Prime Minister Trudeau and I discussed, the USMCA is, in every respect, an improvement on NAFTA.  It puts American jobs and American workers first.  It’s a win for American agriculture.  It’s also a win for manufacturing.  And we’re absolutely convinced, in the midst of this growing economy — 5.8 million new jobs; 3.1 percent economic growth in the last report; wages rising — that by implementing the USMCA, that we’ll add even more fuel to this expanding and booming American economy.

And I was heartened to hear the determination of our allies here in Canada to move through the legislative process.  And by today’s action, we give evidence of President Trump’s determination to see the United States Congress consider and approve the USMCA and approve it this summer.

Q    (Inaudible) on Mexico, President Trump is (inaudible) — threatened tariffs on Mexico.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Yeah, I remember your question.  And thank you for your patience.

Q    Thank you, sir.  Thank you for yours.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Look, we have a crisis on our southern border.  In the month of May, there were 118,000 people apprehended.  And the majority of people that are being stopped at our border, for the first time ever, are families — vulnerable families with children that are being enticed by human traffickers and drug cartels to take the long and dangerous journey north to our border.  And they’re being told that there are loopholes in our law that will allow them — once they come across the border, turn themselves in, and claim asylum — to be able to disappear into the United States.

And the President has called on the Congress to come together to embrace the kind of asylum reform that will close those loopholes.  I mean, people are being hurt on both sides of the border.  And the President is absolutely determined to use the authorities that he has as President to call on the Congress and to call on Mexico to do more to address this humanitarian crisis at our southern border.

I mean, the President declared a national emergency at our southern border earlier this year.  We’ve obtained resources, by virtue of that declaration, that allow us now to be building what will, before the end of next year, be hundreds of miles of physical barriers and walls along the southern border.

But while we work to build our walls, we need to close the loopholes that are being used to entice people to make the long and dangerous journey north.  And we also need to see Mexico do more.  And as the President said earlier today, he’s considering additional action, using his authority as President, under the law, to make it clear to Mexico that they have to do more, that they have to enter into a greater level of cooperation with the United States.  The Safe Third Country Agreement could be completed in a short period of time with Mexico.

But we also need them to do more to secure their southern border and to enforce their laws.

So, 118,000 people coming across our border in May.  We’re on track to have a million people come across our southern border this year alone.  It is a crisis of unprecedented proportions.  And the composition of the people that are coming north through our border is like nothing we’ve ever seen.  It’s putting an enormous burden on Customs and Border Protection.

And in the days ahead, you’ll see the President take action to call on Mexico to do more, to call on Congress to close the loopholes that have created and contributed to this massive humanitarian crisis.

Q    Wouldn’t additional tariffs make it harder to pass the trade deal?

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Well, I don’t want to comment on what may or may not occur in the future.  I’ll leave it to the White House to announce any decisions that the President has made.  But let me say: We think the USMCA — as a long-term arrangement for trade and economic commerce between the United States, Canada, and Mexico — was simply an idea whose time has come.  But what’s happening at our southern border is an immediate crisis.  And the American should know that this President puts no higher priority than the security of this country, than the ability of us to enforce our laws and secure our border.

And so whatever action the President may take in the days ahead will be about addressing the immediate humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border.  But we really believe that if the Congress will close the loopholes, if our neighbors to the south will do more, we can address this crisis and we can move forward and improve the trading relationship between our three countries for generations to come.

Q    What has the President said to the Chinese about the detained Canadians?

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  I’m sorry, say that again.

Q    What has the President said to the Chinese about the two detained Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor?

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Well, the United States has made it very clear that we stand with Canada and we strongly object to the wrongful arrest and detainment of those two Canadian citizens.  And we’ll continue to convey that.

I expect the issue will come up again at the G20.  It’s an issue that we’ve made very clear through State Department contacts.  And, you know, one of the things that I think should be heartening to the American people is, whatever the President is talking about with any leader around the world, if there are American citizens being wrongfully detained in that country, the President is also going to talk about that.

We saw that, and the President spoke yesterday with President Erdoğan of Turkey, and we had the good news last night that an American who had been detained, a NASA scientist, had been released.

So I can assure you, in the days ahead, as we deal with the large structural issues that need to be addressed in our trading relationship with China, as we deal with a massive trade deficit with China, the President also will make it very clear that the United States stands with Canada and calls for the release of the Canadian citizens who are being detained.

Q    Mr. Vice President, regarding the statement of administrative intent, Speaker Pelosi has released a statement saying it indicated a lack of knowledge on the part of the administration on the policy and process.  She also said that it basically is putting people in a position to accept another bad deal.  Where are you going to find daylight with the House on this?  Or how are you going to find daylight?

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Well, as I said today, we’ve been in ongoing discussions with Speaker Pelosi and the Democratic leadership in the House.  And those took place today.  The USTR spoke to Speaker Pelosi and has spoke to key members of the Democrat majority in the Congress.

And what we sent forward today was simply a notification under our trade promotion authority that we would begin the substantive negotiations for the implementing legislation that we’ll send in the next 30 days.  And we believe it’s essential, as I said today, that we pass the USMCA and we pass the USMCA this summer.

And so we remain very confident that the action that we’ve taken today will facilitate more discussions between our administration, the Democratic leadership in the House, and the Senate Republican leadership; and that we’ll be able to formulate the kind of implementing legislation that will be able to move this forward.

But today’s action is all about moving forward on an agreement that we know is a win.  You know, as I’ve traveled around the country, I’ve gone to districts of Republicans and Democrats.  And people are enthusiastic across this country — in manufacturing, in agriculture — for the USMCA.  And we really believe that now is the time for us to move into those substantive discussions about the implementing legislation.

And when Congress returns next week, the USTR will be there.  We’ll be meeting with the leadership.  And we remain very confident that we’ll be able to reach an agreement to implement the USMCA and complete the work in the United States by this summer.

How about one more?  Roberta.

Q    On Venezuela, I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about what prompted your call yesterday with Juan Guaidó, and a little bit more about the call — what you wanted to get across with him.  Did you talk about the Norway talks at all?


Q    And did you ask Prime Minister Trudeau today to do something about Cuba — to take some action on Cuba, in regards to Venezuela?

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Well, my call yesterday was just to assure Interim President Juan Guaidó that we are with him.  The United States of America has taken decisive action to bring economic and diplomatic pressure to bear on the Maduro regime and also to those that support it in Cuba.

And I just wanted to assure him, as we saw the negotiations in Oslo grind to a halt again yesterday, that we are with them and we stand for the principle that, while they have discussions with our European partners — as the Lima Group and the Contact Group all have their discussions about a transition to democracy — that we stand with President Juan Guaidó that there can be no transition with Maduro in power; that Nicolás Maduro has no legitimate claim to power.  They had a fraudulent election last year.  Nicolás Maduro must go.

But once that is achieved, then we will stand with the people of Venezuela, with the National Assembly, and with Interim President Guaidó as they formulate a transition plan to a democratically elected government.  That’s what I made clear to him.

With regard to Prime Minister Trudeau, given Canada’s relationship with Cuba, I did communicate to him that we believe that Cuba’s malign influence, of the presence of Cuban paramilitary and even military personnel on the ground in Venezuela, is a barrier to progress toward liberty and freedom.  And Prime Minister Trudeau and I spoke about encouraging Canada to engage Cuba directly.

And as they saw, when we utilized authority under the Helms-Burton bill, that the United States sees Cuba’s role for what it is, and that we will continue to bring pressure to bear on Cuba until the people of Venezuela are free.

Last thought: What President Guaidó said to me yesterday is just heartbreaking.  I mean, the people of Venezuela are suffering.  I mean, more than 3 million people have fled the country.  By some estimates, it’ll be more than 4 million very soon.  Children are being deprived of medicine.  People are literally starving in the country.

And while the dictator is blaming international actions for that, the truth is, it’s been his dictatorship, his oppression, his Socialist policies that have impoverished that country.  And the time has come for Nicolás Maduro to step away, to allow the people of Venezuela to return their nation to democracy.  And I just wanted to assure Interim President Juan Guaidó that we will stand with them until we see freedom restored for the people of Venezuela.