Marathon over, Barack Obama makes a muted return to Washington

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Marathon over, Barack Obama makes a muted return to Washington
Washington:  After an intense campaign during which Americans - at least those in swing states - could not walk by their televisions without being assaulted by an ad lauding or pillorying President Barack Obama, the man of the moment has suddenly gone quiet.

Two days after his re-election, Obama had made no public remarks outside his victory speech early Wednesday, which many people missed because they had gone to bed.

That will change Friday. Aides say the president will speak to Americans about the economy from the White House. And early next week, Obama will have a news conference, his first since June 20, when he took three questions from reporters during an economic summit meeting in Mexico.

Those forays into the public eye will be opportunities for the president to drop a hint about his negotiating position on the deficit reduction and debt ceiling talks with Congress. This is the same point when President George W. Bush, after his re-election, declared that he had a mandate and planned to use it to tackle Social Security.

Of course, that did not work out so well for Bush, and Obama aides indicate that the president has no intention of declaring that he, too, has a mandate. "No one thinks that's how he wants to govern," a senior Obama aide said Thursday.

The president returned to the White House on a chilly, rainy Wednesday night, his family in tow, after a closing marathon on the campaign trail during which he had sipped countless cups of tea to keep his voice from deserting him. He made one public outing in Chicago on Wednesday before heading to Washington - to visit his campaign office there and thank exhausted staff members. He circled the office, shaking hands.

On Air Force One headed back to Washington, Obama did not go to the press cabin to talk to reporters, as he had been doing during the waning weeks of the campaign. But he did receive a congratulatory sheet cake from the crew, with whom he then posed for pictures, prompting him to ask, "There is somebody flying the plane, right?"

When he arrived at the White House, he largely ignored shouted questions from reporters, remarking only that it felt "chilly" in Washington. He had no public events scheduled for Thursday.

"A campaign-weary American public probably appreciates a little respite after a very long, very expensive and very loud campaign," Dan Pfeiffer, Obama's communications director, said in an interview. "The president is back in the White House, doing his job and talking to members of Congress."

He has also been reconnecting with White House staff members whom he had not laid eyes on for months. He received the daily presidential briefing Thursday at the White House and met with senior staff members. He also huddled with his economic team to talk about the debt ceiling negotiations.

And he has been receiving, and returning, congratulatory calls from foreign leaders, most notably Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who has been in damage control mode after supporting Mitt Romney.

"In each call," the White House said in an email to reporters, the president "thanked his counterpart for their friendship and partnership thus far and expressed his desire to continue close cooperation moving ahead."

Other leaders the president talked to included Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, President Francois Hollande of France, President Mohammed Morsi of Egypt and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

Obama also spoke by phone with several winners of congressional races on Thursday. He talked on Wednesday with two Republican leaders: Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican Senate leader, who said around this time four years ago that his No. 1 priority was to limit Obama's reign to one term.

Certainly, there is exhaustion for both Obama and the staff members at the White House who were on campaign duty. One White House official said that after spending 10 days in Chicago, it was surreal to find himself back at the White House in a daily staff meeting.

That campaign weariness is also part of why Obama spent Wednesday with family members and close friends in Chicago, aides said. "Maybe he's exhausted," one administration official said when asked why the president had not scheduled a news conference or even made a public statement.

With the news coverage since the election being dominated by examinations of the travails of the Republican Party, Obama's best political move might well be to stay out of the limelight and let the opponents who have dogged him for four years twist in the wind.

The Obama camp did a little crowing during a phone call with reporters Thursday, particularly on the subject of Republican super PAC money.

"If I were one of those billionaires funding Crossroads, I would ask where my refund is, because they didn't get much for their money," the campaign strategist David Axelrod said, referring to a group tied to Karl Rove. "In the final week, over $100 million was spent against us in those battleground states."

He added, "The heartening news is you can't buy the White House."

© 2012, The New York Times News Service
Story First Published: November 09, 2012 09:42 IST

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