Obama's Travels Meet With Criticism

The president visits Chicago to raise money for fellow Democrats.

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President Barack Obama waves as he boards Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Sunday, May 26, 2013, en route to Moore, Okla., to visit with families and first responders in the wake of the tornadoes and severe weather that devastated the area.
President Barack Obama waves as he boards Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Sunday, May 26, 2013, en route to Moore, Okla., to visit with families and first responders in the wake of the tornadoes and severe weather that devastated the area.

President Obama is following up on his pledge to get out of Washington as often as possible during his second term to connect more effectively with the public, but his jaunts are stirring up considerable controversy.

Conservatives are attacking him for sending the wrong message by taking expensive trips when many programs for everyday people are being cut by the federal government and while many individuals are suffering economic hardship.

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Republicans also hit Obama for going on the road to raise money for the Democratic party, which he did in Chicago Wednesday. "Obama is raising money for 2014 Democrats but Obama's second term 'agenda' is creating more headaches than the campaign cash might be worth," said Kirsten Kukowski, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, in a memo to reporters.

At one of those Chicago fundraisers, Obama blamed his conservative adversaries for gridlock and hyper-partisanship in Washington. "We've got a politics that's stuck right now," he said. "The reason it's stuck is because people spend more time thinking about the next election than they do the next generation."

He said he wants to work with Republicans but if the GOP continues to block his agenda, he would bypass them and campaign aggressively for "a Democratic House of Representatives," which is now controlled by Republicans.

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Obama's defenders say he is correct to separate himself from the capital. "Anything that takes the president out of Washington and puts him in contact with people is bound to put him in a better light," says Democratic pollster Geoff Garin.

Bill Galston, a political scientist at the Brookings Institution and former White House adviser to President Bill Clinton, also tells me that it helps Obama to get out of Washington.

"The public perception is that people go to Washington and spend their time fighting with each other rather than dealing with problems people care about," Galston says.

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The New York Times pointed out Thursday that both President Obama and his wife Michelle are attending fancy, big-ticket fundraisers this week and planning other expensive trips, including an official visit to Africa this summer, "as federal workers brace for a summer filled with unpaid furlough days."

But some of Obama's trips seem nonpartisan. Earlier this week, he toured areas that were devastated by a tornado in Oklahoma and by a hurricane in New Jersey, accompanied in both cases by Republican governors.

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  • Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com, and "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He is the author of the new book "Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America's Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership." Ken Walsh can be reached at kwalsh@usnews.com and followed on Facebook and Twitter.