No small feat getting Obama to fete

View Comments ()
|
Email
|
Print

    NEWSLETTERS

    AP
    Obama almost had to miss his own birthday party.

    A milestone birthday, a barely averted fiscal meltdown — with the modern presidency, there is always something.

    President Barack Obama’s plan to celebrate his 50th birthday with a major Chicago fundraising trip has been hanging fire pending resolution of the debt and deficit crisis. Now, deal in hand, the party is back on.

    “He is still going; his 50th birthday is later this week, [and] we know he doesn’t look a day over 35,” White House deputy communications director Jen Psaki told POLITICO.

    The possibility that unforeseen events will upend the most elaborate of presidential planning is a built-in expectation at the White House, where the working assumption is that crises happen.

    Obama in early 2010 scrapped a major overseas trip to Australia and Indonesia to work on health care reform. He scratched the same trip three months later to deal with the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. A 2009 Hawaiian Christmas sojourn was interrupted by an attempted airline bombing.

    Obama canceled a family trip to Colonial Williamsburg earlier this year when it appeared that the government could shut down. The debt-limit debate claimed two fundraisers and a family weekend in Montana.

    “The ability to pivot and adjust is not only essential to the fast pace and daily rhythm of the White House, it is expected,” said Jamie Smith, spokeswoman for Obama.

    Karen Finney, a Democratic strategist and former Clinton administration staffer, said such upheaval “goes with the territory of being president.”

    “For most of us, when a last-minute work thing derails our plans, it means rescheduling a dinner to work on a memo, finish a project or take an extra shift. When you’re POTUS, it means working the phones to keep the economy from the brink of disaster,” she said.

    The president can run the country from most locations, including while on Air Force One. Secure video, a retinue of staff and modern technology make him highly portable. But there’s a public relations downside to leaving Washington in the middle of a pending crisis.

    At the same time, the massive security, staffing and organizational logistics involved in even a day trip to Chicago can make a canceled trip a major bummer for all involved.

    “It’s hard,” said Tony Fratto, a CNBC contributor and a former spokesman for President George W. Bush. “A lot of time and effort goes into those trips, but no matter how much planning goes into them, the White House has to make decisions based on the most immediate priorities.”

    “You just have to roll with them from a scheduling standpoint,” Fratto said.

    The timing of the fundraiser turned unintentionally awkward. As the budget stalemate dragged on, the chances increased that Obama would need to either skip the event or fly to Chicago in the middle of a fiscal crisis. The campaign had indicated the party would proceed without him if the debt issue was still unresolved.

    “The optics of being in a room with the wealthiest of the wealthy and the friendliest audience you could have, right in the midst of this crisis — it would have been awful,” said Doug Heye, a Republican strategist and former national party spokesman.

    But after the Senate passed the compromise measure Tuesday, the president signed it into law and the showdown over the debt ceiling passed into history — at least for now.

    Obama’s birthday fundraiser Wednesday is set for Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom. The event includes a $35,800-ticket VIP dinner and a concert open to smaller donors.

    His actual birthday is Thursday, and Obama has spent much of the year publicly fretting over it — remarking on his graying hair, slower metabolism and rapidly growing young daughters.

    “We overdramatize birthdays that end in zero, a little bit [for] birthdays that end in five but really, mostly zero,” said Michael Munger, director of the philosophy, politics and economics program at Duke University.

    Munger said the confluence of the 50-year milestone and the debt debate underscore that “it’s really hard to be president.”

    Obama connected the two events in an interview with NPR late last week.

    “What I really want right now is to get a debt ceiling deal for my birthday,” Obama said. “Maybe I’ll have a good hamburger on my birthday, as well.”