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.
“Our headquarters is like a beehive,” he said. “We've just had a jillion calls, people dropping by ... There's a lot of excitement.”
People are asking for information on how to see the president, said Collins, who was invited in December to the White House for dinner with Obama. But all the events are closed to the public. The state Democratic Party is not organizing any rally because it has received little information from the White House; officials are suggesting residents can make the trip to Cushing and perhaps get a glimpse of the president's motorcade as it drives through town.
Collins, who received an invitation to Thursday's event in Cushing, said the Oklahoma trip is not a campaign stop for the president.
“It's purely, you might say, business,” Collins said. “He's going to talk about energy and the building of that pipeline from Cushing south to Port Arthur. He's going to also talk about renewable energy.
“That's the reason it's closed to the public because he's not asking for voters,” he said.
Pam Pollard, vice chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party, said she is surprised Obama didn't schedule at least one event for Oklahomans to see him.
“I'm glad that the president has seen the importance of Oklahoma and is finally willing to come to our great state,” she said. “I have never seen a president come to our state without allowing some type of openness to the general public.”
Pollard said she considered the visit by the president, who is seeking re-election in November, to Oklahoma to be a political trip. But she said it at least seems to focus discussion on domestic energy production.
Pollard said Republicans and others unhappy with Obama's energy policies could take part in a demonstration in Cushing. Americans for Prosperity is teaming up with Energy Citizens to host a rally for those who want the president to develop an aggressive energy policy. The event is set from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. at Fechner Pump and Supply.
Fallin is sending her commerce secretary, Dave Lopez, to the Cushing event to represent her office. Her energy secretary is out of state on a business trip. A spokesman for the governor said the governor's office didn't receive official notification of the president's visit to Oklahoma until Sunday night, although the White House released information Friday about his trip.
Fallin's on a family trip
Fallin, who is scheduled to return Thursday from a family vacation in Puerto Rico, issued a statement saying she hopes the president, who she said has an anti-energy policy, will take time to listen to Oklahomans during his visit.
“I think they will tell him that — far from supporting the responsible domestic production of American-made energy — his administration has undermined it at every turn,” Fallin said.
“Rather than embracing the truly remarkable technological breakthroughs that have resulted in the discovery of an additional 100-year supply of natural gas, the president and the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) continue their hostility to basic and time-tested practices like hydraulic fracturing.
“In Oklahoma, we recognize that the energy industry is an important ally in job creation and economic development,” the governor said. “We believe that American energy is a resource, not a hazardous waste. My great hope is that some of that attitude will rub off on our president, who has lost his way on energy policy and so many other issues.”
House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, said he tried earlier this week to get credentials to attend the president's event in Cushing, but space was already filled.
“I'm very interested to hear what he to say,” Steele said. “Obviously, we've not always agreed on energy policy, but I think it's very, very important that we hear him out.”
Steve Lackmeyer, Business Writer