WASHINGTON (AP) — Attend a black-tie gala? No. Meet with business leaders who oppose a government shutdown? Yes. Jet off to Asia for a four-country tour? Maybe, but shorten the trip and keep the option to cancel.
President Barack Obama's strategy during the partial shutdown of the federal government is aimed at keeping up the appearance of a leader focused on the public's priorities and avoiding looking tone deaf to the hundreds of thousands of Americans forced off the job. He's also trying to maintain what the White House sees as a political advantage over Republicans, with nearly all the president's events providing him a platform to blast House GOP lawmakers for opposing a Senate bill to keep the government running.
Republicans have sharply criticized the president's approach, saying that if he were serious about ending the shutdown, he would be negotiating a solution. Obama did summon congressional lawmakers to the White House to discuss the shutdown Wednesday evening, but the leaders emerged to say no progress had been made.
"The meeting was cordial but unproductive," said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
The president's allies say Obama is best served by staying away from the negotiating table and letting Republicans argue among themselves.
"I think if you're the White House, you just sit back and watch," said Robert Gibbs, former White House press secretary and a longtime Obama adviser. "I don't think there's anything for you to do. I don't think there's anything you should do."
The government shut down after Congress failed to pass a spending bill by Monday's midnight deadline, forcing about 800,000 federal workers off the job, shuttering national parks, and halting a range of government services. House Republicans are demanding changes to Obama's health care law in exchange for funding the government, a tactic the White House opposes.
Most polling ahead of the shutdown shows Republicans taking more of the heat than Obama for the political impasse. No polling on the shutdown itself has been completed.
The power of the presidential bully pulpit does give Obama one distinct advantage over Republicans. He can streamline the message coming from the White House, while GOP leaders must contend with the different factions of their party airing competing and sometimes contradictory views.
In the opening days of the shutdown, Obama's message has been squarely focused on the economic impact of the shutdown and the benefits of the health care law Republicans are seeking to curtail. On Tuesday, he met with Americans who say they're being helped by the new health law. On Wednesday, he met with business executives — traditionally a core Republican constituency — to discuss the impact of the shutdown and the upcoming debt-ceiling debate on the economy. And on Thursday, he plans to visit a construction company in nearby Maryland to highlight how small businesses are affected by the shutdown.
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