WHITE HOUSE NOTEBOOK: Obama still regrets Olympics

AP News
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Posted: Mar 19, 2011 3:38 PM
WHITE HOUSE NOTEBOOK: Obama still regrets Olympics

President Barack Obama came to Brazil carrying a grudge.

Brazil beat out Chicago, Obama's hometown, for the 2016 summer Olympics, a stinging loss that Obama says he still hasn't recovered from.

Talking about business opportunities for U.S. companies in Brazil, Obama said they'd be looking for needs to fill "as Brazil prepares to host the World Cup and the Summer Olympics _ which still hurts for me to say."

The comment drew laughter as Obama addressed the press jointly Saturday with Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff on the first day of his three-country Latin America swing.

Obama, who'd gotten personally involved in lobbying on Chicago's behalf, didn't let it go. At a business forum a little bit later, the president remarked to executives: "Brazil is going to be hosting several important sporting events over the next few years. I mentioned that it pains me to say this when it comes to the Olympics _ Lula beat me on that one."

Lula is Brazil's ex-president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

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Rousseff mentioned a couple of times that she felt a special kinship with Obama since both made history with their elections _ Rousseff as Brazil's first female president, and Obama as America's first black president.

"The peoples of our two countries built the two largest democracies of the Americas," she said after meeting with Obama at the presidential palace. "They had the courage to elect to the highest office an African-American and a woman, proving that the foundations of democracy allow us to overcome the biggest obstacles that impede the construction of a more generous and harmonic society."

Toasting Obama at a luncheon later, Rousseff again mentioned that they both represent political breakthroughs.

"I would like to raise a toast to you and to the dream of Martin Luther King, the same dream of Brazilians and Americans _ the dream of freedom, the dream of hope, and also add another dream, the dream of harmony and peace among all of us."

She said it was especially significant because the U.S. and Brazil are the two countries with the largest black populations outside Africa.

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For the president, his trip to Latin America was a family affair _ and an extended one at that.

Not only were first lady Michelle Obama and daughters Sasha and Malia traveling with him, but so were Mrs. Obama's mother, Marian Robinson, and the girls' godmother, Eleanor Kaye Wilson.

Mrs. Obama remarked upon it as she, her daughters and the other ladies in the group attended a youth cultural event including samba drummers while the president was engaged in official business.

"It is a very rare opportunity that we get to travel together. Usually when the president and I travel, these two are in school where they need to be," Mrs. Obama said, gesturing to Sasha and Malia. "But they're on break now, so they get to come, and they've been very excited."

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The White House had promised a joint press conference with Obama and Rousseff on Saturday, but to the annoyance of the American press corps, the Brazilians had other plans.

Instead of taking questions, Obama and Rousseff simply delivered statements. The White House said this was Rousseff's preference, but a Brazilian press officer at the presidential palace called it "a decision taken by both sides during the preparations for the trip." The officer, who declined to be identified in line with internal regulations, said he did not know why no questions would be taken.

Rousseff, unlike her charismatic predecessor Lula, who spoke with the press nearly every day, has rarely given press conferences in her three months in power and almost never gives interviews. During her campaign for the presidency last year, she often seemed uncomfortable in public and was criticized for a mechanical speaking style.

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Associated Press writers Stan Lehmen in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Bradley Brooks in Brasilia, Brazil, contributed to this report.