Even if his thoughts were else­where, Obama keeps to his cal­en­dar in Cal­i­for­nia

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - DAVID NAKA­MURA david.naka­mura@wash­post.com

san fran­cisco — Pres­i­dent Obama’s mo­tor­cade, 20 ve­hi­cles deep, wound through the High­land Park neigh­bor­hood Fri­day in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia and stopped at the crest of a small hill. Only the pres­i­dent’s cus­tom black sport-util­ity ve­hi­cle con­tin­ued, veer­ing up a steeper street un­til it dis­ap­peared.

Some­where out of the view of re­porters, Obama got out and en­tered a makeshift record­ing stu­dio in the garage of Marc Maron, host of a pop­u­lar pod­cast. WTF? That is ac­tu­ally the name of Maron’s show. But it was as good a ques­tion as any to ask about why Obama was there to be­gin with. In Charleston, S.C., com­mu­nity lead­ers were search­ing for an­swers about a shoot­ing that killed nine black Amer­i­cans at a church two nights ear­lier. In High­land Park, the leader of the free world was sit­ting down for an hour-long chat with a comic who de­scribes him­self as an “Iggy Pop Woody Allen.”

Down the hill, a crowd had gath­ered near the pres­i­dent’s en­tourage, and a man dressed as a clown was jug­gling bowl­ing pins.

“I think it’s highly un­usual,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz ac­knowl­edged later to re­porters aboard Air Force One as the pres­i­dent trav­eled to San Fran­cisco. “I’m fairly cer­tain this is the first time a pres­i­dent of the United States has been in­ter­viewed in a garage.”

Maron’s in­ter­view won’t be posted un­til Mon­day, so the public won’t know un­til then what they dis­cussed. But the mere fact that Obama kept the in­ter­view at a time of na­tional trauma high­lights a re­al­ity of the of­fice of the pres­i­dency: Life goes on.

Time and again, Obama has car­ried on busi­ness as usual— with only brief in­ter­rup­tions— in the face of cri­sis or tragedy. He of­ten makes a state­ment to the public, as he did Thurs­day at the White House, speak­ing emo­tion­ally about the Charleston killings, but soon re­sumes his regularly sched­uled pro­gram­ming.

To the White House, the value of main­tain­ing a sched­ule is clear for a num­ber of rea­sons. Aides said that if the pres­i­dent regularly al­tered his sched­ule to meet the de­mands of break­ing news, he would con­stantly be in re­ac­tive mode and fail to make progress on any num­ber of pri­or­i­ties.

In ad­di­tion, Obama and his ad­vis­ers re­ject the no­tion that a pres­i­dent must be re­spon­sive to the de­mands of tele­vi­sion pun­dits or ri­val politi­cians. Last sum­mer, when the pres­i­dent jug­gled rounds of golf dur­ing a se­ries of for­eign pol­icy crises in the Mid­dle East, one of his se­nior ad­vis­ers said: “There’s no timetable for solv­ing these prob­lems that’s go­ing to meet the ca­ble news cy­cle speed. It’s not a ten­able thing. We’d much rather do this right than do it quickly.”

For Obama, the shoot­ings in Charleston were clearly in his thoughts dur­ing the first half of a four-day Cal­i­for­nia trip. Though he had made im­pas­sioned re­marks at the White House be­fore leav­ing, the pres­i­dent spoke about the shoot­ings pub­licly at each stop in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia and in San Fran­cisco, where he at­tended four Demo­cratic fundrais­ers and ad­dressed the U.S. Con­fer­ence of May­ors.

“I am not re­signed” to gun vi­o­lence, he told the may­ors. “I refuse to act as if this is the new nor­mal.”

The pres­i­dent was in touch with law­mak­ers in South Carolina, per­son­ally call­ing Mayor Joe Ri­ley and other author­i­ties and of­fer­ing any fed­eral aid they might need. But White House aides of­fered no hint that plans were in the works for Obama to visit Charleston.

Af­ter past tragedies, the pres­i­dent has been wary of ar­riv­ing too quickly for fear of di­vert­ing re­sources from the lo­cal in­ves­ti­ga­tions. In many of those cases— in Aurora, Colo., in 2012, for ex­am­ple, and in New­town, Conn., also in 2012— he later trav­eled to the cities to pay his re­spects in per­son.

Yet even if his thoughts were else­where, the pres­i­dent went about his other du­ties in Cal­i­for­nia. Dur­ing a Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee fundraiser at the Bev­erly Hills es­tate of movie mogul Tyler Perry, Obama held Perry’s in­fant son and rem­i­nisced be­fore a crowd of 250 donors— in­clud­ing “Mad Men” cre­ator Matt Weiner and ac­tress Jan­uary Jones— about the time his own daugh­ters drooled on his lapel.

“Oh, it’s okay,” the pres­i­dent said with a chuckle. “No­body no­ticed.”

That night, he dined pri­vately at his ho­tel with movie pro­ducer Jeffrey Katzen­berg and di­rec­tor Steven Spiel­berg.

At times, the pres­i­dent’s ac­tiv­i­ties, jux­ta­posed with the un­fold­ing crises, can ap­pear dis­cor­dant or crass. He played golf min­utes af­ter speak­ing about the be­head­ing of Amer­i­can jour­nal­ist James Fo­ley in Syria. He was at a ritzy Martha’s Vine­yard party dur­ing the first night of ri­ots in Fer­gu­son, Mo. He hoisted beers with Colorado Gov. John Hick­en­looper at a sports bar at a time when thou­sands of Cen­tral Amer­i­can mi­grants were be­ing held in over­crowded bor­der pa­trol fa­cil­i­ties in Texas.

Obama plans to play golf in Palm Springs this week­end be­fore re­turn­ing to Washington on Sun­day evening.

In Cal­i­for­nia, he has been sur­rounded by celebri­ties and power bro­kers at high-dol­lar fundrais­ers. Even at the may­ors con­fer­ence, Obama de­scended the stage and ap­proached the rope line to shake hands with peo­ple in the au­di­ence when he came across en­ter­tainer MC Ham­mer, wear­ing sun­glasses. They hugged, and Ham­mer posted sev­eral pic­tures of the en­counter on Twit­ter.

“What A His­toric Day !!!” Ham­mer wrote.

But for Obama, the main point of the trip was to rally fel­low Democrats and raise money for a party that will at­tempt to co­a­lesce around a Demo­cratic stan­dard-bearer to suc­ceed him and pre­sum­ably carry on his legacy. At each stop, the pres­i­dent re­cited a litany of achieve­ments, in­clud­ing the econ­omy, health care and the en­vi­ron­ment— and then ticked off a list of chal­lenges that re­main.

“I’m re­ally proud of this record,” he said at the Sea Cliff home of San Fran­cisco bil­lion­aire Tom Steyer, over­look­ing the Golden Gate Bridge.

Then he was off again, on to the next stop in an itin­er­ary that had been planned long ago.


Pres­i­dent Obama holds one of the twin daugh­ters of Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.) and his wife, Mon­ica, upon his ar­rival Satur­day at the Palm Springs In­ter­na­tional Air­port. With his sched­uled trip to Cal­i­for­nia, busi­ness car­ries on as usual for the pres­i­dent.

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