The Debate

Obama Cancels Rest of Asia Trip

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The Debate

Obama Cancels Rest of Asia Trip

In cancelling his appearances at APEC and the East Asia Forum, Obama put his political standing ahead of Asia.

U.S. President Barack Obama will not be attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation or East Asia Summit meetings next week, the White House said in a statement late Thursday night.

“Due to the government shutdown, President Obama’s travel to Indonesia and Brunei has been cancelled,” Jay Carney, White House spokesman said in a statement to the press. “The president made this decision based on the difficulty in moving forward with foreign travel in the face of a shutdown, and his determination to continue pressing his case that Republicans should immediately allow a vote to reopen the government.”

Earlier in the week the president had decided to cancel visits to Malaysia and Philippines that he was scheduled to make after the APEC summit in Bali, Indonesia and EAS meeting in Brunei. At the time, the White House had said that the trips to Malaysia and the Philippines had to be canceled because personnel needed for preparatory planning had been furloughed because of the U.S. shutdown.

Secretary of State John Kerry, who’s already in the region, will visit all four countries in the president’s absence.

Later in the statement Carney said:

“The cancellation of this trip is another consequence of the House Republicans forcing a shutdown of the government. This completely avoidable shutdown is setting back our ability to create jobs through promotion of U.S. exports and advance U.S. leadership and interests in the largest emerging region in the world. The president looks forward to continuing his work with our allies and partners in the Asia-Pacific and to returning to the region at a later date.”

Although most political observers in the U.S. agree that the Republican Party, or at least a radical faction within it, is responsible for the shutdown, the White House’s handling of the president’s planned trip to Asia has been less than ideal. It made little sense, for instance, to cancel the backend of the trip so early in the week, only to later announce that the first two stops on the trip would also be canceled.

Furthermore, some might question the rationale of why Obama insists on staying in Washington. The White House has refused to negotiate with the Republican Party over getting a spending bill passed, and has only briefly met with GOP Congressional leaders since the shutdown began. Even at this brief meeting, he simply reiterated that he was not planning on negotiating with them.

Instead Obama has spent the shutdown largely trying to use the bully pulpit to reiterate to the American people that the Republican Party was to blame for the shutdown. The White House is reportedly hoping that a public backlash against the Republicans for the shutdown will force them to pass a continuing resolution to fund the government for at least a couple of months. Obama’s ability to continue publicly scolding the GOP would’ve been greatly curtailed if he was in the Asia-Pacific.

Probably more worrying to his political advisors, the Republican Party would have portrayed Obama as an absentee president unconcerned about the government shutdown had he proceeded with the trip to Asia.

Thus it seems that the president’s decision to cancel likely had more to do with his political standing at home than anything else. In fact, his decision to cancel a trip that was supposed to last through the end of next week reaffirms what everyone already believes: that there is little prospect of the shutdown ending anytime soon. Most political analysts believe the shutdown will continue until a deal is reached both to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling before it is reached on October 17. If so, in practical terms the president would’ve been able to attend APEC and the EAS meetings and be back in Washington before any real work towards restarting the federal government is likely to begin. 

There’s always the possibility that the House Republican leadership will relent and introduce a “clean” continuing resolution on the House floor where it is believed to have more than enough votes to pass by majority rule.

For the record, this is the third time Obama has cancelled a trip to Asia to attend to domestic matters, at least one of which was blatantly political. He also skipped APEC last year because of the presidential election.