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2016 Presidential Field Expands; Obama Returns From Americas Summit


With Hillary Clinton making her campaign official yesterday, it can be said the presidential race is on. Later today in Florida, Republican Senator Marco Rubio will throw his hat into the ring. Still, even as the political world shifts its attention to who the next president will be, Barack Obama spent the weekend focused on what could be a lasting part of his legacy in foreign policy. He shook hands and sat down with Cuba's President Raul Castro at the Summit of the Americas in Panama. We'll go there in a moment and check in with NPR's Carrie Kahn. But we begin with the big political news here at home. NPR's Ron Elving joins us for that. Good morning.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: So let's, as I said, begin with this announcement from Hillary Clinton - a video posted on her website, very low-key, featuring voters prominently. Let's listen to just a bit.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Well, we been doing a lot of home renovations.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: But most importantly, we really just want to teach our dog to quit eating the trash.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: I've started a new career recently.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: This is a fifth-generation company, which means a lot to me.

HILLARY CLINTON: I'm getting ready to do something, too. I'm running for president.

MONTAGNE: OK, people doing things - Hillary Clinton sending out an announcement there?

ELVING: You know, Renee, this first 90 seconds of this video could've been an ad for a moving company or perhaps a car rental agency - all these different kinds of people getting ready to go places and do new things. And then suddenly we see this familiar face smiling, running for president, trying to make the least surprising announcement of the year in the least pretentious way. It's almost as though they were consciously try to get as far from that "Saturday Night Live" parody one night earlier as they possibly could. The parody was imperious. You know, Hillary was entitled and self-absorbed and tied to the past. And this announcement was really striving to be the opposite.

MONTAGNE: And she kicked off a road trip to Iowa in a van yesterday. It's a bit of classic campaigning, meeting voters face-to-face, but not the kind of politics she's actually known for.

ELVING: Not as much as her husband, surely. But she's probably better at it than many people realize and better at that than the big ballpark speeches that Barack Obama did so well back in 2008. And, you know, it's a good idea to go to Iowa right now. It's planting season, good time for preparing the ground - maybe scatter some seeds.

MONTAGNE: OK, all right. And tilling the ground in another part of the country, Republican Marco Rubio joins the widening field of GOP candidates. Now, his backdrop will be the iconic Freedom Tower in Miami, a kind of Statue of Liberty for Cuban-Americans, and he'll be making his announcement this evening. He'll be running largely on his identity as the son of Cuban immigrants.

ELVING: Yes, that's right. But neither he nor his fellow second-generation Cuban-American Ted Cruz is really limited to that kind of appeal. They both represent big states, two of the three most populous states in the country in the Senate, and they've been Tea Party favorites as well as outreach candidates with some appeal to Hispanic voters.

MONTAGNE: And of course, there's an irony in that having two presidential candidates whose fathers were anti-Castro immigrants just as President Obama renews relations with Cuba. And so let's turn to NPR's Carrie Kahn. She's been covering the Summit of the Americas in Panama, where Obama met face-to-face with Cuban President Raul Castro. Tell us more about that interaction.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: It was the photo seen around the world. Obama and Castro met for more than an hour, and it was stunning. We saw the 83-year-old Castro looking grandfatherly and being uncharacteristically conciliatory toward Obama. Granted, Castro spoke to hemispheric leaders for nearly an hour outlining more than a century of U.S. aggressions - what he says are U.S. aggressions toward Cuba. But he - toward Obama, he called him an honest man. He said he had read Obama's books and admired his humble origins. Obama received widespread praise here for warming relations and his moves to end what, you know, is seen in the region as antiquated Cold War-era animosity.

MONTAGNE: And just, though, before President Obama went to this summit and had all this good feeling, he announced sanctions on Venezuelan officials. President Obama called that country a national security threat. Did that overshadow the advances he made with Cuba there?

KAHN: The short answer - no. Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro tried to make hay out of it here. You know, actually, the day he landed in Panama, he ran to the site of the 1989 U.S. invasion and denounced the U.S. But he didn't get the play he had hoped for. This summit was about Obama and Castro making nice, and Obama really shut down his critics with straightforward statements like, I wasn't even born when many of these so-called aggressions occurred. And he directly told Ecuador's president, look, stop dredging up the past and using the U.S. as an excuse to not deal with your failed domestic policies.

MONTAGNE: OK, well, President Obama did try to convey something very positive - that the U.S. was entering a new era with Latin America - more sharing and education and the economy, less talk about war on drugs and security. How well did that go over?

KAHN: Very well. It was very well-received, especially given the warmer tones toward Cuba. And during Obama's press conference in the last night of the summit, he said look, Cuba and even Venezuela are not keeping him up at night. They are not the threats to the U.S. He's got ISIS to worry about, Yemen and getting that nuclear deal signed with Iran.

MONTAGNE: Well, Ron, you're still with us - one last question about that Iran deal. Over the weekend, President Obama, he was still in Panama, but he made some rather pointed remarks to Senator John McCain who had called John Kerry, quote, "delusional over the Iran deal." President Obama shot back, saying this is an example of how partisanship has, in his words, "crossed all boundaries." What do you make of that?

ELVING: The funny thing is John Kerry and John McCain are two actually close friends, two of the people who crossed the aisle most often, worked with each other over the time that they were both in the Senate over the last several decades. They are not really the focus, and this particular dustup is not really the focus of what's going on this week. The big issue is the bill in the Senate that Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, has brought forward. And that is really the focal point for Congress - asserting its role in having something to say about this agreement before the agreement is actually finalized.

MONTAGNE: Political news from NPR's Ron Elving in Washington, D.C., and NPR's Carrie Kahn in Panama. Thank you both very much.

ELVING: Thank you.

KAHN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.
Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for NPR.org.