March 19th, 2011
09:25 AM ET
BRASILIA, Brazil (CNN) - After recent tension over President Obama breaking with tradition by hosting world leaders at the White House but not taking any questions from the media during those sessions, administration officials were eager to boast that he would be holding several news conferences on his three-nation trip to Latin America.
"So I'd just note for your planning purposes, we'll be having three press conferences with each of the leaders," said Ben Rhodes, the White House's deputy national security advisor for strategic communications. "So there will be that opportunity."
Well actually that opportunity has already started to close on Day One of Obama's trip.
A press officer for Brazil's foreign ministry told a U.S. pool reporter that it was indeed Rousseff who pulled back on allowing a full-fledged news conference.
"It's not her way," the press officer said of Rousseff, Brazil's first female president. "She didn't do it with the prime minister of East Timor either."
Of course, a visit from the U.S. president usually carries a little more cache and reporters from both countries are itching to ask Obama and Rousseff about anticipated military action in Libya, which could come as early as this weekend while Obama is on Brazilian soil.
The Obama administration helped to lead the coalition of nations that approved a United Nations Security Council resolution, by a 10-0 margin, on Thursday authorizing a no-fly zone and other possible military action to stop Moammar Gadhafi from continuing to attack civilians in his own country.
Brazil, which is a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, was one of five nations that chose to abstain from the vote. While Brazilian officials said they did not want that decision to give the impression they condone Gadhafi's actions, Rousseff's administration has concerns that the scope of the resolution is too wide and could end up backfiring.
While Obama and Rousseff could address the situation in Libya in their prepared remarks, the lack of questions from the media prevents either leader from being pressed on the ramifications of the potential military action as well as any potential divisions between the U.S. and Brazil on the matter.
U.S. officials have privately said they wanted questions during the session with Rousseff and are working right up until the meeting to try and get that changed. Obama is also still planning to take questions at joint news conferences with the leaders of Chile and El Salvador during the five-day trip.
During the Libyan crisis, Obama has recently hosted several leaders at the White House without taking questions from the media. A meeting that Obama had with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon was closed completely to the media. He also held talks with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the leaders only made statements to the press, refusing to take questions.
This is a break with recent tradition because then-President Clinton used to do so-called "three and threes" when he was hosting a world leader at the White House, which meant that each leader would take three questions from each country's press corps.
That access shrunk a little when then-President Bush followed Clinton into the White House with "two and twos" in which he and a visiting leader would take two questions from each side's media horde.
Obama has shrunk that access even further by conducting some "one and ones" with world leaders, as well as the meetings that have included no questions - basically what could become known as a "zero and zero."
White House officials, however, note that Obama has been accessible to reporters in other forums. For example, he held two news conferences on his own at the White House in recent weeks.