For Obama, a Shamrock-Sprinkled Schedule

The White House is going green for St. Patrick's Day. The water in the fountains on the north and south lawns of the White House has been dyed green to mark the national holiday of Ireland. Video by AP
By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 18, 2009

For the first time, the fountain in front of the White House spouted green on St. Patrick's Day, just like the Chicago River. And, yes, the president dressed to match.

"Green tie -- not bad, huh?" Obama said yesterday morning at an event ostensibly about his $3.6 trillion budget proposal. "Conrad didn't get the memo."

The president was referring to Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), the Senate Budget Committee chairman, who stood at his side in non-green neckwear. Rep. John M. Spratt Jr. (D-S.C.), who chairs the House Budget Committee, apparently did receive it. His tie gleamed emerald.

So began St. Patrick's Day for the president, a guy with a lot on his plate, but whose calendar for a day was essentially all Irish, all the time. For a politician from Chicago, where a large Irish American community votes early and often, it offered hours of familiar distraction from dire fiscal matters.

Most of the day's events were unavoidable tradition, not that Obama necessarily wanted to avoid it. More than half of the 70 million-strong Irish diaspora lives in the United States, and honoring the homeland and its high-spirits culture is good politics and some fun.

After his morning economic briefing, Obama met in the Oval Office with Ireland's prime minister, Brian Cowen. Obama noted that his mother's ancestry is Irish, even tracing back to the same county Cowen once represented in Parliament.

"So we may be cousins," the president said to laughter. "We haven't sorted that through yet."

Cowen gave the president the Corrigan Brothers CD "There's No One as Irish as Barack Obama."

The shamrock ceremony followed in the Roosevelt Room, and the president used the event to announce the appointment of Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney as ambassador to Ireland. Obama then met with Northern Ireland's first minister, Peter Robinson, and his deputy, Martin McGuinness.

Obama headed to the annual St. Patrick's Day lunch hosted by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). In his remarks, Obama mentioned "one person missing," Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), whom he called "the hardest-working Irish American we know."

Ireland's once-thriving economy has slumped badly with the global financial downturn. And attacks this month in Northern Ireland by dissident factions of the Irish Republican Army killed two British soldiers and a police officer, straining an 11-year-old peace accord.

"This peace will prevail, because the response of the people of Northern Ireland and their leaders to these cowardly attacks has been nothing short of heroic," Obama said. "The sight of former adversaries mourning and praying and working together this week should inspire us all and strengthen our resolve to see that this peace does not falter."

His day ended with a St. Patrick's Day reception at the White House.

The fountain is scheduled to return to white froth today.

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