President Joe Biden will have a packed agenda when he arrives in Los Angeles on Wednesday for the Summit of the Americas, the first time the U.S. has hosted the hemisphere-wide event since 1994.
The administration has sought to dispel the notion that the lack of attendance by several heads of government, including Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, will undermine the event.
“We look forward to hosting Foreign Secretary [Marcelo] Ebrard as the Mexican representative. And we welcome Mexico’s significant contribution to the summit — to the — to the major summit deliverables,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday.
That includes a major policy announcement regarding migration in the hemisphere.
“The Mexican government has been a full participant in the development of the migration initiative that will be rolled out later this week,” a senior administration official said Monday. “And we believe in every way that they are fully committed to it.”
Jean-Pierre said Biden opted to extend invitations only to leaders of democracies, a move that left out Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua and prompted the Mexican president to stay away. López Obrador will visit Washington for bilateral engagements later this summer, however.
“It is important to acknowledge that there are a range of views on this question in our hemisphere, as there are in the United States,” Jean-Pierre said. “The president’s principal position is that we do not believe that dictators should be invited.”
Both Jean-Pierre and the senior administration official were asked in separate settings about whether there’s a double standard related to potential Biden travel this summer to Saudi Arabia, which is widely expected but not formally scheduled. Such a trip could include a meeting between the president and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who the U.S. has previously determined authorized the operation that led to the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi.
“We have at no time said, including in discussions of participation related to this summit, that we are severing all relations or refusing to engage with countries about whom we have significant concerns related to democratic governance. We engage with countries like that in all parts of the world, and we will engage with countries like that in our own hemisphere when we think it’s in our interest to do so,” the senior administration official said. “That’s a different question from whether and when we will invite those countries to participate in a regional gathering that we believe is intended to and is best served by celebrating the democratic principles that unite the vast majority of the hemisphere.”
Public and private sector leaders were already making major announcements connected to the summit as of Tuesday.
Vice President Kamala Harris, the Biden administration’s point person on efforts to address root causes of migration from northern Central America, is set to announce new private sector commitments Tuesday.
That includes $1.9 billion in new economic commitments to the region, which a senior administration official said brought the total “galvanized” by the vice president’s work to greater than $3 billion.
“The vice president believes that we need to not just offer an individual a job but address the full spectrum of needs and support individuals in the different facets of their lives. And that’s what this project is all about: trying to help individuals move up the economic ladder and not just have a job but also have access to information technology, banking system and infrastructure that creates that positive ecosystem,” that official said on a Monday call with reporters.
Harris is also unveiling new commitments aimed at economic empowerment for women in northern Central America. According to the White House, that will include private sector commitments from companies like MasterCard, Microsoft and PepsiCo, as well as $4.5 million in funding from the State Department’s Gender Equity and Equality Action designed “to support the economic participation of women and girls across the region.”
Other scheduled events in connection with the summit include a CEO Summit hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, with Harris as the scheduled headline speaker for the United States and participation from Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and climate envoy John Kerry.
Separately, Jean-Pierre said Monday that “more than 10” members of the president’s Cabinet are also traveling to Los Angeles for events related to the summit.
Each day Biden attends the summit will have different themes, with announcements of new policies or initiatives expected with each. The White House said health security and the regional economic agenda will headline the discussions Wednesday, with climate and food insecurity the focus on Thursday and migration on Friday.