White House spokesman Jay Carney: “On a given day? I can’t do it on a given day. I would say on a given week about 5 percent of his time.”--White House press briefing, Nov. 29, 2011
President Obama obviously is seeking to be re-elected. But the question raised at one of this week’s news briefings is an interesting one: How much time is he spending on getting re-elected? He has a pretty important day job right now, after all.
We asked a White House official for an explanation of how Carney derived his estimate, and were told it was based on Carney’s knowledge of the president’s schedule. That did not seem like a particularly rigorous accounting (though Carney did not try to claim it was). So we decided to investigate further.
The precise details of how the president spends his day are a bit fuzzy, but the White House does release a daily schedule which the Washington Post’s POTUS tracker has meticulously cataloged, day in and day out. The tracker lists every event the White House makes public. Excluding events that turn up as “departing,” “leaving” and “no public events scheduled,” we discover that as of Dec. 1, the president has held 1,134 events this year. (We kept our focus on just this year because that was the context of the question asked of Carney.)
If you search under fundraisers for this year, it turns out the president has held 73 all over the country—in Florida, Illinois, California, Texas, New York and elsewhere.
That’s 6 percent of the president’s events. We’re not counting the travel time it took to get to some of these places, but obviously that would be substantial. But we will set that aside because the president can conduct work on the plane.
But wait, there’s more. The president seems to like to give speeches in states that are likely to determine the presidential election — battlegrounds such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina and Michigan. The president’s schedule as he fought for his jobs bill in the fall looked suspiciously like a trial run for the kinds of stops he will be making in the final days of the campaign.
The Fact Checker once covered the White House, and so we know there is often a fine line between a policy speech and a political speech, especially as a president gets closer to an election. So we went through all of the president’s stops in nine battleground states (the ones listed above plus Colorado, New Hampshire, Virginia and Wisconsin) and excluded mostly ceremonial events. We ended up with another 63 events, bringing the total of potentially campaign-related events to 133.
That’s almost 12 percent, or more than double Carney’s back-of the-envelope estimate.
To be fair to Obama, the Washington grapevine tells us that he’s no Bill Clinton in terms of making fundraising calls. He’ll do it but apparently it’s a bit like pulling teeth. And so far there hasn’t been much hint that he’s been loaning out the Lincoln bedroom to big donors, another Clinton specialty.
Moreover, some might argue that it is not quite fair to label all of these events as tied to the president’s campaign. We would welcome ideas from readers on other ways to measure the time the president spends on his campaign.
The Pinocchio Test
Carney’s five-percent estimate seems too low, even one year before the election. Even by our somewhat crude measurement, Obama is spending at least 10 percent of his time on the campaign. Frankly, that’s what one would expect. The actual figure could well be higher. He wants to have another term, for Pete’s sake.
Check out our candidate Pinocchio Tracker