U.S. President Barack Obama cancelled a visit to Malaysia next week because of the government shutdown in the United States, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said on Wednesday, the Associated Press reported.
There was no announcement of the cancellation on the White House’s website, although it (somewhat dramatically) has a banner on the top announcing that it may not be updated during the shutdown.
Fresh off his well-received UN General Assembly speech, Najib said that Obama had called to inform him that he would not be able to visit Kuala Lumpur a week from Friday as previously scheduled. The president said that his Secretary of State John Kerry would attend in his absence.
Obama would have been the first U.S. president to travel to Malaysia since 1966, when Lyndon B. Johnson visited. The report also noted that Obama cancelled two trips to Asia back in 2010; once to get his health care bill—which the shutdown is partially about—through Congress, and the second time because of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Obama was expected to visit Malaysia on the tail end of a four-stop trip to Southeast Asia that begins this weekend with the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Bali, Indonesia. The president was also expected to visit Brunei—ASEAN’s chair this year— and the Philippines, as part of the trip.
It is unclear at the time of writing if the rest of the trip will go ahead as scheduled. On Tuesday the Philippines said that it had not received any notification on whether the U.S. president would proceed with his first ever visit to the Philippines next week despite the shutdown.
Politico also reported on Tuesday that the White House is still discussing whether the president should make the trip or not, and indicated that Obama planned to put off cancelling the trip until the last minute. That report appeared before Najib’s announcement.
At the State Department’s daily briefing on Tuesday, spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that Kerry would be joining Obama in Bali on Friday. The full transcript of the White House press briefing for Tuesday was not up at the time of writing.
Jay Carney, the White House’s spokesperson, told reporters on Monday that “We are currently scheduled to travel. We certainly hope that in the time between now and the president’s scheduled departure the speaker does the right thing.”
This was a much more ambiguous statement compared to those he made last week when he indicated that the trip would proceed no matter what, or even the one he made Monday when he told reporters “we have this trip scheduled and we intend to take it.”
The president himself did not address the issue during his public appearances on Tuesday, including his speech in the Rose Garden.
Bill Clinton was forced to skip the APEC summit the last time the U.S. government shut down in 1995. Clinton’s press secretary at the time later said that the cancellation “blew a hole in our Asia outreach strategy.”
Despite the shutdown, both Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry are in the region. Hagel is in Asia visiting South Korea and Japan while Kerry will meet up with Hagel in Tokyo before (tentatively) meeting Obama in Bali.
Notably, Chinese President Xi Jinping began a trip to Malaysia on Wednesday. From there he will visit Indonesia where he will attend APEC. He will return to Beijing on Tuesday.