President Obama’s reliance on the bully pulpit to bump up ObamaCare’s enrollment and hammer Republicans in an election year is facing a serious challenge with the crisis in Ukraine.
The worst U.S.-Russia crisis since the Cold War is taking up a significant amount of the administration’s oxygen, complicating the president's efforts to get his message out.
On Thursday, Obama sought to put the spotlight on higher pay for women, an election-year issue Democrats believe they can turn to their advantage in November.
But his event in Orlando was largely overshadowed by his announcement earlier in the day of new sanctions on Moscow, part of a showdown with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The administration isn’t giving up its efforts even as Obama seeks to contain Russia, and the cross-currents have led to some odd juxtapositions.
On Thursday, the day began with the release of a video of Obama joking with talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres over her selfie at the Oscars, which broke Obama’s record for re-tweets. Obama’s appearance on “Ellen” was meant to promote the healthcare law.
Hours later, a somber Obama announced new sanctions on Russia on the White House South Lawn, with the Marine One helicopter as his background shot.
As Obama was speaking, ESPN Radio’s “The Herd with Colin Cowherd” was airing a previously taped interview with the president in which he dug into his March Madness bracket.
In the interview, Obama also defended his appearance with comedian Zach Galifianakis on his “Between two Ferns” Web series, noting Abraham Lincoln famously loved to tell “bawdy jokes.”
The hubbub over that video, released last Tuesday, drowned out a White House event with female lawmakers designed to highlight the president’s election-year focus on women’s issues.
Still later on Thursday, Obama used the event at Valencia College in Florida to scold Republicans for opposing the Paycheck Fairness Act.
The commander in chief was replaced by the campaigner in chief, who called on the GOP to “join us in this century” and pass the legislation meant to ensure women receive equal pay for equal work.
Obama also called on lawmakers to raise the minimum wage.
After concluding his remarks, Obama was rushed back to Air Force One for a short trip to Miami, where he plans to attend a fundraiser Thursday night at the home of former Miami Heat star Alonzo Mourning.
None of this is wildly out of order for a modern presidency in which the leader of the free world must balance state dinners with appearances on “The Tonight Show.”
But recent events have provided an extreme example of the tightrope Obama must walk.
On Wednesday night, Obama sat for television interviews with six local anchors from across the country. The interviews were intended to promote the White House push on minimum wage, but reporters questioned Obama with provincial questions on topics like the anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing, search for the missing Malaysian airliner (and the Dallas-area residents on board) and why he had opted against picking the Arizona Wildcats as his Final Four champion.
During his appearance on ESPN, Obama acknowledged he had to pursue unusual opportunities to reach “folks who may not be paying attention to day-to-day politics.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney on Wednesday said the adminsitration needs to “be creative” to reach people with its message.
“Because, unfortunately — it's not enough for me to make the case to you here or for the president to give a speech covered by you — a lot of folks, millions and millions and millions of Americans, and certainly a huge percentage of young Americans aren’t listening or watching or reading what the people in this room are producing,” he told reporters at his daily briefing.
The White House isn’t entirely tearing up its old playbook.
At his event in Orlando, Obama said senior administration officials would fan out across the country to host regional forums where they will solicit ideas about how the government could make it easier for women to get ahead in the workplace.
The events in Denver, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston and New York City are intended as listening sessions for the White House to gather ideas on how the president and other lawmakers can address discrimination issues and family pressures that exacerbate gender disparities.
They’re also likely to garner local media attention, and energize Democratic interest groups.
The president will then host a summit this summer unveiling those ideas, in a bid sure to generate headlines and attention ahead of the midterm elections.
“We're going to keep making the case as to why these policies are the right ones for working families and for businesses ... we want to hear your stories,” Obama said.