Is this the “bad optic” that President Obama’s critics have been waiting for: An Associated Press photo of the president taking a call on the golf course within the hour after the East Coast earthquake Tuesday?
When Obama left for a 10-day vacation in Martha’s Vineyard last week, critics and supporters alike warned that the image of him pursuing leisure activities on the tony island might make for an unfortunate contrast with much of the country mired in economic doldrums.
Turned out it was a natural disaster, not the economy, which pierced his vacation bubble. But now we have a photo that shows him trying to balance work and play during the 5.8 magnitude quake — and, not surprisingly, it has stirred up some snark.
“Obama is still playing golf. Not even an act of God can stop him from getting at least 9 holes in today,” Washington Times opinion page editor Emily Miller wrote on Twitter.
Not to be outdone, Ari Fleischer, former press secretary for President George W. Bush, wrote on Twitter of the current president of the United States: “WH says potus didn’t feel today’s earthquake. No worries. Another is scheduled for November 2012.”
Other users chimed in with bad jokes along the lines of the quake forcing Obama’s golf ball into the sand traps.
During the first part of his vacation, Obama had made a point to keep a relatively low profile at the vineyard, even going out of his way not to be photographed on the golf course when he noticed cameramen waiting beyond the eighth tee during a round last week, according to the Boston Globe.
And the White House aides made sure to stress that the president was working each day, taking briefings from counterterrorism adviser John Brennan and economic adviser Brian Deese. The first photograph of Obama released by the White House press office showed him listening to Brennan with a serious look on his face.
Sure enough, real world events have disrupted the vacation — first the conflict in Libya, and then the earthquake.
On Tuesday, before the quake, Obama began a round at the Farm Neck Golf Club, a public course in Oak Bluffs. His foursome included White House trip adviser Marvin Nicholson, Chicago pal Eric Whitaker, and Washington lawyer Vernon Jordan.
According to a press pool report, Obama wasn’t exactly on his A game.
At the first hole, Obama “stepped up to his ball, which was several feet from the hole, and made two practice strokes. He missed the hole on his first putt, but got it close. He then tried to tap it in, but missed again. He appeared to pick up the ball to let the others in his party play through as he watched,” the pool report noted.
At that point, the press pool was ushered off the course, while Obama continued to the second tee.
The earthquake, whose epicenter was in Virginia, was felt by the press pool waiting for Obama after it struck around 1:51 p.m. But it was unclear whether the president had felt it on the course.
He was, however, photographed and captured on video, taking the phone call on a mobile phone.
By 2:50 p.m., the White House felt compelled to issue a statement, saying Obama has led a conference call with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley, National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, Homeland Security Adviser John Brennan, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, and other geological and nuclear regulatory advisers.
“The president was told that there are no initial reports of major infrastructure damage, including at airports and nuclear facilities and that there were currently no requests for assistance,” White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest, who is with the president in Martha’s Vineyard, told reporters. “The president asked for regular updates on the situation.”
Reporters were not satisfied and continued to press Earnest about whether the president had felt the quake. Somtime around 6:45 p.m., Earnest said that Obama “didn’t feel the earthquake today.”
Not everyone was put off by the president’s golf outing. The most popular Twitter message on the topic was one from a user names Spykes whose Twitter name is Dammyyie, who saluted Obama’s typical cool demeanor.
“Shoutout to obama playing golf right now while the usa is going crazy about this earthquake...obama still chilln like a boss,” he wrote.
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