White House: 'It's fair to say' we were wrong on Paris unity rally

The White House said Monday that it made a mistake in not sending President Obama or a top administration official to the weekend unity march in Paris, a rare concession that it had botched the optics of an important international event.

“It's fair to say we should have sent someone with a higher profile to be there,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters at his briefing, which was dominated by questions about the march.

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“We want to send a clear message, even in a symbolic context like this one, that the American people stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our allies in France,” said Earnest. “And sending a high-level, highly visible senior administration official with a high profile to that march would have done that.”

He dodged questions about who was responsible for the decision to have the U.S. be represented by the U.S. ambassador to France, saying only that it was a staff-level call the president was not personally involved in.

The White House said planning for the march had begun only 36 hours before the event, and that the security required for the president to visit would have been “onerous and significant.”

“Had the circumstances been a little bit different, I think the president himself would have liked to be there,” Earnest added.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Sens. Marco RubioMarco RubioBudowsky: Why Warren masters Trump Meghan McCain: ‘I no longer recognize my party’ Five ways Trump’s convention was a success MORE (Fla.) and Ted Cruz (Texas) were among the Republicans criticizing the decision. All are weighing presidential bids in 2016.

"The absence is symbolic of the lack of American leadership on the world stage, and it is dangerous," Cruz said in an op-ed in Time magazine.

There were also complaints from the media. CNN anchor Jake Tapper wrote that he was ashamed the United States did not send a higher-level official to the march.

Earnest said there had been no rift with the French, and aides added that French officials had conveyed publicly and privately that they were not upset by the decision.

The misstep reinforced perceptions that Obama is too detached and dispassionate, however, and drowned out a series of steps the administration has taken to signal Obama’s focus preventing a lone wolf terrorist attack in the United States.

The Department of Homeland Security announced Monday that it had increased random searches of passengers and carry-on luggage at U.S. airports. It has also ordered a Transportation Security Administration review of airport security procedures.

The administration issued a series of intelligence bulletins to state and local law enforcement to apprise them of recent threats, and surged intelligence community assets to assist the French investigation into the shootings at the Charlie Hedbo magazine, which killed a dozen people.

Secretary of State John KerryJohn KerryPower restored at Turkish air base used in anti-ISIS fight Don't expect much of a post-convention bounce for Trump or Clinton Kerry: Power at Turkish air base to be restored shortly MORE and Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas plan to visit France for counterterrorism discussions in the coming days.

“I want to emphasize that the relationship with France is not about one day or one particular moment,” Kerry said Monday. “It's an ongoing, long-time relationship that is deeply, deeply based in the shared values, and particularly the commitment that we share in freedom of expression.”

Earnest said he did not know why Attorney General Eric Holder, who was in Paris earlier Sunday for a series of high-level counterterrorism meetings, was unable to stay to attend the march. He also said he did not know what the president, who remained at the White House throughout the day, did with his time.
 
— This story was updated at 5:22 p.m.