“Not at all,” press secretary Jay Carney said. “. . .These are substantive policy issues.”
And the president didn’t check in on the Republican debate in Arizona last week. “I know that he didn’t watch it,” Carney said.
And Mitt Romney’s sweep of the Arizona and Michigan GOP primaries Tuesday night wasn’t discussed in the West Wing.
“I’ve met with him today,” Carney said of his boss, “but that topic did not come up.”
When it comes to Election 2012, the White House professes to see no campaign, hear no campaign and speak no campaign. Eight months before Election Day, as the Republican primary has dragged on without producing a clear front-runner, Obama has remained focused on governing, aides insist.
Yet despite the administration’s protestations, the president’s schedule is increasingly being taken up by campaign events — most notably fundraisers.
On Thursday, Obama will travel to Nashua, N.H., to tout his energy policy at a community college and call on Congress to repeal $4 billion in annual subsidies to oil and natural gas companies. But afterward, he is scheduled to fly into New York City to deliver remarks at four fundraisers that could rake in several million dollars for his campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
Those private events come on the heels of a trip to Miami and Orlando last week during which Obama gave one official speech and held three fundraisers.
Two weeks ago, the president spent three days on the West Coast for eight fundraisers. He also has held a series of intimate roundtable events for big-money donors at the Jefferson Hotel in Washington over the past several weeks.
Obama’s official events, including the cross-country jobs tour last fall and the post-State of the Union tour last month, have been centered primarily in electoral battleground states. And Republicans have charged the president with using his speeches to outline the themes of his re-election message. (Some also complain that, by combining official business with campaign events, Obama is able to defer portions of the costs of traveling to the fundraisers onto taxpayers. The White House says it abides by long-established guidelines used by previous administrations to prorate the costs.)
Not that the White House would admit that the president’s speeches are campaign messages in disguise. To aides, Obama’s populist slogan of creating an “economy built to last” is a policy message.
“Other than remarks that he makes at fundraisers, has the president given a campaign speech this year?” a reporter asked Carney this week during his daily briefing.
“No, I think that’s where he gives his campaign speeches,” Carney replied. “And there will be time, as I’ve said, for the president to engage fully in the political campaign.”
“Will you announce when he’s starting?” the reporter countered, drawing laughs from colleagues. “It’s hard for us to tell.”
Carney wouldn’t bite.
There will be a time when Obama adopts a more “comprehensive political posture,” the spokesman promised. “But that time is not now and it’s actually not for some time.”