Can Obama Bring 'Change' to Mexico?

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record ," April 16, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Mexico is at war with the drug cartels, and that is where the President Obama is tonight, in Mexico. The violence there is escalating. And just hours before the president's arrival, a violent drug battle erupted between Mexican troops and a convoy of gunmen. Fifteen gunmen, one soldier were killed in the gun battle. So why is our present there?

Joining us live from Mexico City, Major Garrett, FOX Senior White House correspondent. Why Mexico, Major? What's going on there? And where is the president right now?

MAJOR GARRETT, FOX CORRESPONDENT: The president's here at the Intercontinental Hotel in Mexico City. He's just wrapped up a working dinner with President Felipe Calderon and members of the Mexican legislature and some members of the supreme court here. Why is he here? To symbolically show the United States is standing with President Calderon in his fight against the drug cartels.

And it's important to point out, Greta, that that violence, the 16 dead that you just referred to, happened in Guerrero, quite a distance here from Mexico City. Mexico City itself has not really been feeling a lot of the drug cartel violence lately. That's been in other parts of the country. And U.S. businesses who operate here in Mexico have largely been unaffected.

However, the Mexican people have been direly affected by it, 10,000 people have died here since this drug cartel war began in 2006, 6,200 died just last year. Of those, more than 500 either members of the army or the police have been assassinated. The president came here to say, We stand alongside you, this is a courageous fight, we're going to do what we can on our end. But he's not doing everything that President Calderon wants him to do. President Calderon would like President Obama to impose -- or reinstate the assault weapons ban. The president said, You know, I probably can't get that through Congress right now. We'll deal with existing laws. That's creating a bit of tension here in Mexico City.

VAN SUSTEREN: But didn't he say in the campaign that he -- that he wanted to do -- that he wanted to do something about the assault weapons ban, to get it -- you know, re-up it? I mean, so -- what did he say about it today?

GARRETT: That's right. During the...

VAN SUSTEREN: I mean, (INAUDIBLE) specific words say?

GARRETT: During the campaign, he said he thought it would be a very good idea for the assault weapons ban to be reinstated. Today he was asked about that, said, Mr. President, when you were a candidate, you said, Let's bring it back. You're not saying that today. Why are you letting the Mexican people down? He said, I'm not letting them down. I still believe it's a good idea, but I can't get it through Congress right now.

The White House has made a tactical political decision here, Greta, that if they bring a gun control issue to Congress now, when they're trying to get health care and energy legislation and other things on the Obama agenda that are a higher priority than this, the gun control issue could overtake those and cost the president things he cares more about, meaning health care, energy, the environment. So he's just simply not going to make that fight now. He'll try to work with the existing laws. But it is clearly a political calculation, and it's playing out here as the drug war is debated.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, what's interesting is he's got a Democratic House and Senate. All right, now, the issue about the Mexican trucks -- has the United States...


VAN SUSTEREN: ... met its obligations under NAFTA or not, letting Mexican trucks come in and use U.S. roads?

GARRETT: Oh, no, it hasn't. And that's been true since NAFTA was ratified and signed by both countries back in 1995. This has been an incredibly sore point from the Mexican point of view. First of all, NAFTA said Mexican trucks can have unfettered access to the United States. Right after NAFTA was ratified, President Clinton, in concert with the Teamsters, said, No, I'm going to put severe restrictions on the access of Mexican trucks moving northward.

Well, in the stimulus bill that the president signed in February, legislation was added disallowing any Mexican trucks from crossing the border. The president is now trying to work this out. But the Mexicans have always considered this to be an affront to them and a grotesque violation of NAFTA. They've sort of lived with limited access, but now they're very upset about no access for Mexican trucks. And in retaliation, and for the first time in a long time, slapped $2.4 billion in tariffs on U.S. goods. So right now, Greta, we have a little bit of a trade war going on between these two countries.

Even though Mexico is the third largest trading partner with the United States, on the trade issue, the president didn't even discuss it in his opening remarks at the press conference today because he knows -- also going back to the campaign, he said NAFTA should be renegotiated. Well, the Mexicans would say, Hey, wait a minute, why don't we just get together around the trucking issue, which you guys have been hurting us with for quite so many years? That issue still up in the air. No resolution here. The president hasn't talked about NAFTA. Trade is still an issue boiling here in Mexico City.

VAN SUSTEREN: Major, thank you.

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