President Obama is abroad for much of the next 3 weeks. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

June 17, 2013

Of the 17 days between now and the July 4 holiday, President Obama will spend only six of them stateside -- with nearly back-to-back trips to Europe and Africa taking up much of his time.


President Obama leaves the White House Sunday en route to Northern Ireland. AFP/Getty Images.

Obama's long spate of international travel comes at a difficult time in his second term. The shine of his re-election victory has clearly worn off. The latest three-day Gallup poll showed 47 percent approving of the job he is doing while 45 percent disapproved; a new CNN poll showed just 45 percent job approval for the president with 54 percent disapproving. The numbers reflect the fact that Obama and his administration have weathered more than a month of bad press on issues ranging from the IRS' targeting of conservatives to the latest revelations regarding the widespread surveillance conducted by the NSA.

His trips to Northern Ireland/Germany this week and then Tanzania, South Africa and Senegal next week will almost certainly provide a break in that negative narrative for the White House -- particularly since most members of the minority party will refrain from publicly criticizing the president during travel abroad. And, traditionally, presidents benefit from the optics of foreign trips; there's a bit of a rallying-around-the-flag effect that takes over.

But, the Washington landscape Obama left Sunday night could also look far different (and potentially worse for him) when all of the major players re-assemble back in Washington in the second week of July. (Worth noting: On July 8, the day Congress comes back, there will be just 28 days before they are scheduled to head out of town for their annual month-long August recess.)

The fight over comprehensive immigration reform, a priority of Obama's second term, is set to continue full force in Obama's absence with opponents of the legislation -- most notably Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) -- amping up the rhetoric on the issue of late in hopes of killing the bill.

"Now the bill has been reviewed and there can be no dispute: it weakens current law, undermines future enforcement and puts amnesty — not enforcement — first," Sessions said Sunday.

What we know: This foreign break will mark the end -- or at least a pause in -- an extremely tough run of headlines for the president. What else we know: In politics, nothing stands still; Washington on June 17 won't look the same as Washington on July 8.

What we don't know: Is what will change in the political landscape a help or a hindrance to President Obama as he seeks to build a second term legacy?

Markey leads Gomez by 11 in Boston Globe poll: With just over a week to go until Election Day, Rep. Ed Markey (D) leads Republican Senate nominee Gabriel Gomez 54 percent to 43 percent, according to a Boston Globe survey released Sunday. With help on the stump from leading Democrats like President Obama and Bill Clinton and support over the airwaves from outside groups, Markey has given himself a cushion down the stretch. Gomez is wining independents by nine points, but that's well short of what he needs to pull an upset. Gomez needs some big moments during the final week to come from behind. His best chance may come at the final televised debate, which will be held Tuesday.

Fixbits:

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said Obama doesn't believe his administration's surveillance tactics have violated Americans’ privacy. He also called the outcome of the Iranian presidential election a "potentially hopeful sign."

Once Americans learn about the extent to which the surveillance methods thwarted terror plots, they will support them, says House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.).

Congressional Republicans criticized Obama on Syria.

Former vice president Dick Cheney said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is wrong on surveillance.

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush (R) says his parents are split over whether he should run for president in 2016.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) will air an ad defending himself against the NRA.

Sarah Palin mocked scandals swirling around the Obama administration during a speech at the Faith and Freedom Conference.

At the same conference, Herman Cain said the country is headed "towards socialism and towards communism," while Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) said conservatives have "a long way to go" to win national elections.

Newark Mayor Cory Booker has hired some Obama campaign veterans.

A good rundown of the outside spending in the Massachusetts Senate race.

Must-reads: 

"Getting To Maybe" -- Ryan Lizza, The New Yorker

"At IRS, 'Tea Party' could mean 'liberal,' official says" -- Gregory Korte, USA Today

"On Europe trip, Obama will face a continent frustrated by his actions and inaction" -- Scott Wilson, Washington Post

"Tea for 2? Kentucky Senators in a Marriage of Convenience" -- Trip Gabriel, New York Times

"Republicans trying to use health-care law to derail Obama’s immigration reform efforts" -- David Nakamura and Sandhya Somashekhar, Washington Post

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Sean Sullivan | June 16, 2013