President arrives in Oklahoma

The president heads Thursday to the Cushing area where he is expected to talk about domestic energy and a major pipeline project that would cross through Oklahoma.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT mmcnutt@opubco.com Published: March 21, 2012

President Barack Obama arrived safely by jet Wednesday night at Tinker Air Force Base as part of a four-state energy tour.

The president, making his first presidential trip to Oklahoma, will leave Thursday morning to go to the Cushing area, where he is expected to deliver remarks on domestic energy and on the Keystone XL pipeline.

He is scheduled to return Thursday afternoon to Tinker, and then he will depart for Ohio. None of the president's stops in Oklahoma are open to the public.

Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett and Air Force Maj. Gen. Bruce Litchfield, commander of the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center at Tinker, greeted Obama as he stepped off Air Force One about 9:30 p.m. Oklahoma's top two elected officials, Gov. Mary Fallin and Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, both Republicans, were on out-of-state trips already scheduled before the Democratic president announced late last week he was coming to Oklahoma.

Fallin issued a statement Wednesday that she is pleased the president is visiting Oklahoma to see the work going on in Cushing, but said he “has lost his way on energy policy.”

The president did not make a speech after he stepped off Air Force One, but he did walk over to an area where about 180 military members and civilians from Tinker were gathered. “Thank you for your service,” the president said, as he shook outstretched hands.

Mayor Cornett said he did speak briefly with the president. “I welcomed him to Oklahoma City. I had not seen him in a little while.” Cornett said the conversation quickly turned to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Cornett said he thought he would inform Obama about the team's win that night. “He already knew. He is quite a fan of that team,” he said.

The mystery over where Obama would sleep Wednesday night was answered several hours earlier as Oklahoma City police and the U.S. Secret Service established a security perimeter around downtown's Sheraton Hotel, 1 N Broadway.

As of Wednesday afternoon, airport-style security screening was in place at the hotel's entrance — precautions not used at any of downtown's other hotels. Sources also confirmed to The Oklahoman the Sheraton was set to host Obama.

Oklahoma City officials said downtown commuters Thursday morning are encouraged to leave early and allow plenty of time to reach their destination because of the president's visit.

‘There's a lot of excitement'

Although Obama failed to carry any of Oklahoma's 77 counties in 2008, people have been calling Oklahoma Democratic Party headquarters and officials about getting a chance to see the 44th president.

Invitations are required to attend the president's appearance Thursday at a pipe yard that contains a few miles for the 500-mile construction project.

His administration in January rejected a permit for the northern segment of that pipeline because a route through Nebraska is still being finalized, but the president promised to speed up approval for the segment connecting the oil storage hub in Cushing to Port Arthur, Texas.

Rep. Lee Denney, R-Cushing, has been invited to the event in Cushing.

She said Wednesday she would ask the president whether he would sign a presidential order approving the northern segment of the pipeline.

“What people would really like for him to do is come tell us that he's going to OK the pipeline,” she said.

Denney said her office has received many calls from Payne County constituents wanting to see the president during his appearance in Cushing.

“I wish it was a public meeting,” she said. “There are tons of people in Cushing who would like to meet him.”

But Denney said she is heartened that the president is scheduled to fly by helicopter from Oklahoma City to Cushing's airport and then arrive by motorcade to the pipe yard.

“He'll get to see from the air all the change in infrastructure that we have in the Cushing area,” she said.

Wallace Collins, chairman of the Oklahoma Democratic Party, said his office has been swamped with calls from people inquiring about how they could see the president during his visit. It's the first visit to Oklahoma by Obama since March 2007 when he was campaigning for the Democratic nomination for president.

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