Obama’s Visit to Denmark Draws Critics
WASHINGTON - He came, he spoke - and he finished last.
President Obama's 20-hour jaunt to Copenhagen won't win a gold medal for diplomacy, though aides said his Olympic effort on behalf of Chicago was worth the time and he would do it again if necessary.
"Had he not gone, he would have been criticized for not going," said senior adviser David Axelrod, a Chicagoan who expressed disappointment as the International Olympic Committee awarded the 2016 summer games to Rio de Janeiro.
Obama watched television news reports of the announcement in his private cabin aboard Air Force One, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said. "The president is disappointed as you might imagine," said Gibbs. But, he added, "he feels obviously proud of his wife for the presentation that she made."
Republicans, meanwhile, could barely contain their glee after Chicago became the first contestant eliminated in the four-city race that also featured Tokyo and Madrid.
"We're number four! We're number four!" joked Republican strategist Rich Galen.
Galen said the rejection isn't "fatal by any means," but it won't help Obama as he tries to use the powers of political persuasion on lawmakers and other world leaders.
"This will be a joke in the halls of Congress for weeks, if not months," Galen said.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich used his Twitter account to link the Olympic loss to the nuclear challenge of Iran and Friday's announcement that the jobless rate has spiked to 9.8 percent, its highest level since 1983.
Said Gingrich's tweet: "President Obama fails to get the Olympics while unemployment goes to 9.8 percent Iran continues nuclear program. America needs focused leadership."
He later added: "President Eisenhower had a rule that presidents of the United States went to the meetings after success had been assured."
Gibbs brushed off the criticism, saying the president and first lady "made a case from the heart" and would "never shy away" from the opportunity to promote the United States on the world stage.
"There's people trying to solve problems and there's people playing games," Gibbs said of the critics.
Some analysts said the decision had more to do with Chicago than Obama.
"If Obama had not been there, or Obama had not been president, Chicago probably would have gotten fewer votes," said Larry Bennett, a political scientist professor at DePaul University who wrote a research report on Chicago's 2016 bid.
Kent Redfield, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Springfield, noted that Obama is dealing with the bad feelings from "eight years of the cowboy foreign policy" of predecessor George W. Bush.
Redfield said that any "negative feelings" by the International Olympic Committee "is more a repudiation of the U.S.'s image and standing in the world, which Obama is trying to repair."
Many White House officials hail from Chicago, and had high hopes for their Olympic bid. They include first lady Michelle Obama and top adviser Valerie Jarrett, both of whom landed in Copenhagen on Wednesday to begin lobbying.
The president had initially declined to go to Copenhagen, saying the demands of health care legislation and other issues would keep him home. Obama changed his mind earlier this week, and in his presentation to the IOC cast the bid on behalf of the United States as well as his home city.
"Chicago is that most American of American cities," Obama told the delegates, "but one where citizens from more than 130 nations inhabit a rich tapestry of distinctive neighborhoods."
Axelrod said he did not view the vote as anti-Obama, or anti-United States.
Calling himself a Chicagoan who is used to "intense politics," Axelrod said few electorates are as complex as the International Olympic Committee. He pointed out that a former IOC president led Madrid's bid.
"We knew it was a very competitive situation," Axelrod said. "We didn't go with any illusions."
As for the political criticism, Axelrod pointed out, "this wasn't a huge investment of time." Obama left shortly before 7 p.m. Thursday, and was back at the White House by 3:15 p.m. Friday.
The thing about sports, the president said to reporters upon his return to the White House, is "you can play a great game and still not win."
Contributing: Judy Keen in Chicago