The White House denied that President Barack Obama's decision to cancel his latest round of fundraisers amid the expanding Ebola situation Wednesday was done for political reasons, despite the president receiving a spate of criticism for appearing detached during recent crises.
On Sunday, when reports emerged of the first person contracting Ebola inside the U.S., Obama played the 200th round of golf of his presidency. Two days later, he attended a $32,400-per-person fundraiser in McLean, Virginia, to raise money for Democratic House candidates.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Obama's scheduled New Jersey and Connecticut trips were canceled because of the second health care worker diagnosed with Ebola inside the Dallas hospital that treated Thomas Eric Duncan, the first patient diagnosed with the virus in the U.S.
“This indicates the seriousness of this situation, and the president believes it was important to convene the people responsible for coordinating this response,” Earnest told reporters Wednesday. “That meeting was not possible while the president was traveling.”
Obama attended fundraisers earlier this year after a plane was shot down over Ukraine, a second shooting at Fort Hood, and during the rise of the threat from the Islamic State terrorist group.
Asked why Obama continued his political schedule in those cases but not Wednesday, Earnest said, “We consider these matters on a case-by-case basis.” Asked whether canceling Wednesday's schedule was a political consideration, Earnest said, “It was not.”
It took a second reported case on Wednesday of an American health worker contracting Ebola to prompt Obama to cancel a 5 p.m. fundraiser for Senate Democrats in Union, New Jersey, and an 8 p.m. speech for Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy in Bridgeport, Connecticut. He instead scheduled a cabinet meeting for the afternoon.
Obama still has a scheduled fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee in Long Island, New York, Thursday. Earnest said he did not know if there would be a change to the Thursday's schedule.
“Republicans portray him as not on top of foreign policy, not rolling his sleeves up in policy making, but the fundraiser in chief,” Gary Rose, chairman of the political science department at Sacred Heart University, told TheBlaze. “Clearly it’s an optics issue. But it has become what is defining his presidency. Ask people what they think of with President Obama and it’s not hope and change anymore. It’s fundraising for his party.”
Meanwhile, Obama has been doing official business this week, meeting with officials from the Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about Ebola on Monday. He met Tuesday with military commanders from 21 countries about dealing with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
In August, Obama was criticized for hitting fundraising events after the Islamic State beheaded an American. He also took heat for attending a Democratic fundraising event in the immediate aftermath of the April shooting in Fort Hood. In July, Obama attended fundraising events after a Malaysian airliner was shot down over Ukraine that killed more than 250 passengers.
Obama had 15 scheduled fundraising events this month for the Democratic Party and Democratic candidates, according to the Sunlight Foundation, a government watchdog group. For 2014, Obama had 47 scheduled fundraisers.
Obama’s second term fundraising has surpassed that of George W. Bush, but is behind Bill Clinton.
Fundraising events are always scheduled well in advance, so the big-dollar events are never planned to coincide with tragic events.
But fair or not, what the public has often seen – Wednesday being an exception – was Obama making politics a priority, Rose said.
“Does he do more? Of course,” Rose said. “We don’t always hear about that. In politics, perception is reality.”
Rose said in a year when Obama hopes to defend the Democrats' Senate majority – which is key to his agenda – he might see no separation between politics and governing.
“The Democratic party has a real chance of losing the U.S. Senate,” Rose said. “Fundraising is critical to advertising and get out the vote efforts. On the other hand, all the public sees him doing is this.”