President Obama’s aides intended this year to be about building the foundation for his reelection campaign by working with Republicans on issues like education, reducing the partisanship in Washington and talking about the economy.
But the events in the Middle East over the last two months have reshaped the third year of the Obama presidency. His schedule, in addition to events on the economy, now also includes briefing members of Congress on the situation in Libya and selling the U.S.’s involvement in the conflict, as he will in a speech Monday. His recent trip to Latin America was lightly covered by the press as military action started in Libya, as were his economic events in February as the White House dealt with the revolution in Egypt.
White House officials insist Obama can and is successfully monitoring the the pro-democracy uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, while at the same time maintaining his focus on domestic issues.
“Nothing is a higher priority for him than economic growth, job creation, innovation, education and infrastructure as the drivers of economic growth and job creation in the 21st century,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a press briefing Friday. “A lot of folks have asked about, as we’ve gone through these significant events in the early part of this year, how can you still go out and give speeches on education or the economy? Because, first of all, he’s President of the United States and it is the responsibility of the president to do many things at once, to keep his focus on a number of high priorities.”
So far, the administration has not dramatically shifted its fundamental approach to dealing with the Middle East turmoil. Obama has not tapped a special envoy to focus on the uprisings in the region, as he did at the start of his term to manage the Arab-Israeli conflict (George Mitchell) or Afghanistan and Pakistan (the late Richard Holbrooke.)
He is maintaining his schedule on other issues, including his reelection campaign, and will appear at a fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee on Tuesday in New York.
Politically, Obama aides have to insist the economy is the president’s top priority, as unemployment remains nearly 9 percent. But it will be interesting to watch if the president’s time and focus shift more dramatically toward the Middle East.
The administration has little influence over the economy right now, as White House officials believe they have already used most of the ideas they have to spur job growth--at least those that the administration and Republicans agree on. On the other hand, Obama’s words and actions could have a profound effect on how and whether countries like Libya and Yemen emerge from their conflicts with governments that are more democratic.
Before his speech on Libya the National Defense University, Obama will appear at an education town hall hosted by Univision.