September 29th, 2009
12:18 PM ET
13 years ago

Obama Olympics trip carries political risks

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="Controversy is surrounding Obama's campaign to secure the Olympics in Chicago."]WASHINGTON (CNN) - President Obama's decision to head to Copenhagen, Denmark, later this week to make a push to bring the 2016 Olympic Games to Chicago is not without political controversy.

Critics say Obama is making a risky move, since key issues - ranging from Iran's nuclear ambitions and health care reform in Congress to deteriorating conditions in Afghanistan - are pressing on the administration.

"I think it's baffling that the president has time to travel to Copenhagen," said Sen. Kit Bond, R-Missouri. "[Obama's] got a lot of responsibilities. His number one responsibility is to keep our country safe."

Chicago is vying for the Summer Games against Madrid, Spain; Tokyo, Japan; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Leaders from Brazil, Spain and Japan are expected to also make in-person pitches. The International Olympic Committee will vote on the host city Friday in Copenhagen.

It will be the first time an American president attends an IOC vote.

Obama will leave Thursday night, attend meetings on Friday morning, and return Friday afternoon, the White House said. First lady Michelle Obama will leave ahead of her husband, on Tuesday night.

Bond said that the issue of Afghanistan and whether to send more troops there should take precedence over the Olympic bid.

Dave Zirin, a contributor to The Nation magazine, said that while the Obamas should be standing with their city, it was unlikely the first couple would be making the trip if Chicago wasn't being considered.

"Amid a roiling national debate on health care, President Obama will be there to join [the first lady]. Would he be risking presidential prestige if Chicago wasn't going to get its place at the Olympic trough? Not very likely," Zirin recently wrote on the liberal blog, The Huffington Post.

But senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett, who also heads to Copenhagen this week, rejected the notion that the president is risking political capital.

"Absolutely not. The president is a competitive spirit. He's very interested in promoting Chicago. ... He's not thinking about the political calculus," she said. "He's thinking what's best for the American people."

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said winning the games for Chicago would help the U.S. economy.

"Obviously any Olympics showcases the country that those Olympics are in and there's a tangible economic benefit to those games being here. And the president wants to help out America's bid."

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, a Democrat, believes the benefits to Chicago's economy from hosting the 2016 Olympic games "will be great and the risk to taxpayers low."

When asked if her husband was risking political capital if their bid should fail, the first lady said that it's the country's bid - not her husband's.

While Bond and other Obama foes criticized the president's trip to Copenhagen, the president got support from an unlikely ally.

On Monday, former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney told the Washington Times that Obama's personal appearance is "likely to ensure the city lands the games."

"I think his presence makes it almost certain that Chicago will win the bid," he added.

Romney is no stranger to Olympic negotiations. In 2002, Romney was in charge of the Salt Lake City, Utah, Winter Olympics.

Romney said he believes that while the president may risk some political capital, the trip is in the country's best interest.

The lobbying effort to bring the games to Chicago, meanwhile, isn't coming just from the president.

Michelle Obama vowed Monday to "take no prisoners" as she and her husband work to promote Chicago's 2016 Olympic bid, comparing the intense lobbying effort to the 2008 presidential campaign.

"It's a battle - we're going to win - take no prisoners," she said, noting that in the campaign a lot of voters made their decision in the final days, and members of the IOC may do the same.

"And our view is, we're not taking a chance," she said. "We're just not going to assume that the bids - that the decisions are made, and so that no matter what the outcome is, we'll feel as a country, as a team, that we've done everything that we can to bring it home."

Jarrett said the Obamas will be a powerful one-two punch.

"What a dynamic duo they will be. I think it will be high impact," she said. "I think their presentation will be both very personal, given that they know and love Chicago so well, and I also think it will talk about the Olympic spirit and the Olympic movement and why we think that Chicago really is the prefect place to host the Olympic and Paralympic games."

- CNN's Ed Henry and Dan Lothian contributed to this report.

Filed under: President Obama
soundoff (43 Responses)
  1. kimberly

    No it doesnt. We are proud that he is doing this. Its good for America, its good for Chicago, and its good for every business owner in Ill that needs help. EVERY OTHER COUNTRY that is bidding for this will be there, so he should be there. Its ONE MORNING! TWO HOURS!!! All these repukes in the senate running around on news shows running thier hateful mouths are the ones dragging this out and wasting time. They are ANTI AMERICAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    September 29, 2009 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  2. Lynne

    What political risks? The president, like the other three leaders of the countries who are in the running for the '16 Olympics, is going to help present Chicago's bid. Only one country will be chosen and it won't necessarily be America.

    Kudos for the President for going to the Committee and presenting his case and not taking the most politically safe route of perhaps not being one of the THREE countries not selecred.

    September 29, 2009 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  3. Rio 2016

    Given the inordinate number of days his predecessor spent on vacation, I don't think there's much room for criticism by the GOP. That being said, he shouldn't be promoting the games for Chicago for several other reasons. I live in Chicago and I can assure you that taxpayers and citizens are already paying for the games through slashed budgets, reduced and eliminated services, staffing cuts and layoffs, fewer police, and the tax money that is being used to build the Olympic Village. Not to mention the Mayor is selling off just about every source of city revenue to pay for it. We have a massive budget deficit. This is a city living far beyond its means and not for the benefit of the people who live here. Obama should be going to Copenhagen to support Rio's bid!

    September 29, 2009 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  4. LacrosseMom

    Political risks? Why? President & Mrs. Obama are from Chicago, they lived there, their daughters were born there. Since he is president why not use his popularity to gain the Chicago area the Olympics?

    The Olympics will bring jobs, visitors and plenty of money to Chicago, and the United States since many foreign visitors will stay and tour other parts of our beautiful nation.

    I say, go for it President Obama! Bring the Olympics to Chicago!

    September 29, 2009 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  5. Bluebonnet

    Once Israel nukes Iran, we won't have to worry about which country get the olympics! The mob-run town of Chigao surely doesn't need it! All the crooks and ethnics groups are rubbing their hands together thinking up ways to scam people who attend.

    September 29, 2009 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  6. Jean

    The US has a perfectly capable Olympic Committee which, in fact, has been very successful in getting the Olympics for many US cities over the years without any help from Obama or any other President. I resent the fact that once again we are paying for a trip that the President does not need to make and many Americans do not think is appropriate. The added expense to have the President attend is enormous when you add in the cost of Air Force One and all the security and other things necessary when a President travels – especially overseas – this is wasteful.

    September 29, 2009 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  7. docallen

    I suppose if he walks the dog, he will be criticized for taking unnecessary time away from his Presidential responsibilities. He has shown he can multitask. Where were all of the concerns when Bush was down in Texas all of the time clearing brush? In these times of video conferencing, etc., Obama does not have to be in the White House to effectively manage the Executive Branch.

    September 29, 2009 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  8. diridi

    it certainly helps the nation....

    September 29, 2009 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  9. JB - NYC

    What do you expect.. this clown has never even run a candy store.. What would make anyone with a brain think he could run a country?
    Experience counts.. Shame you idiots watch too many movies and live in fantasy land. You should have paid attention to your History classes or at least understood the Constitution and would realize we live in a Constitutional Republic, not a democracy.

    September 29, 2009 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  10. AJ

    I am a lifelong Democrat but think this is another example of bad judgment. How many times does Obama need to excersize questionable judgment before we've all had enough? This is not an issue that the President of the United Stated States should be involved with.

    September 29, 2009 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  11. Neutralizer

    Olympic in Chicago? Attendees MUST wear bullet proof vest and have bodyguards with them, Gang war in Chicago, killings 24/7 is enough to scare anyone to attend the Olympic game. I hope the IOC will reject Chicago right away; Japan is much better or Spain.

    September 29, 2009 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  12. Fool me once shame on u, fool me twice... err...

    It is just amazing what a cool operator our President is. Just when you think the pressure must be getting to him; from birthers, to the economy, the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the Nuke threat from Iran, and all the political doom and gloom cable chatter; he goes out and tackles yet another issue which you thought was way out there off his radar screen. To me, that's a very calming effect. It shows that no situation is ever going to get to him. Not to mention he can walk and chew, not just one, but multiple gum sticks at the same time.

    September 29, 2009 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  13. T'SAH from Virginia

    OMG – President Obama can CHEW GUM and WALK at the same time!!! Taking ONE DAY off to go bid for the Olympics is not going to start a WAR!

    If America is ATTACKED while he is away, I am sure he will not SIT THERE AND CONTINUE TO READ A BOOK to school children for 5 minutes before reacting!!!! Jeez!

    September 29, 2009 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  14. Jimmy

    What? He's just doing what he always done, kind of like voting "present". This man does NOT understand the job of the president and he is so under qualified it isn't funny. The people he has chosen to surround himself with are proof of that. What a fool to leave town when there is so much going on that needs to be addressed. Have a nice vacation Obama, we'll still be unemployed when you get back.

    September 29, 2009 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  15. rainbowgirl

    All this political risk talk is so stupid. Why can't the President (ANY president) go to Copenhagen to support the United States' bid for the Olympics, a wonderful event for our country, and still keep his eye on the many isuses facing us today?? One does NOT preclude the other! The President, again, ANY president, works 24/7; it's not like he won't be working the whole time on the airplane ride over there and on the way back. It will merely take a few hours at the most out of his day to promote the United States for the Olympics, which is a worthy goal, so this "issue" is a NON-issue! No one is reasonable these days–always looking for trouble where there isn't any!

    September 29, 2009 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  16. Accountability

    Where were these critics when Bush spent weeks at the ranch in the middle of two wars? Hypocrites.....

    September 29, 2009 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  17. Change_Has_Begun

    I am happy for you and I m let you finish...but Afghanistan, Iran, and Health Care should be priorities....

    September 29, 2009 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  18. Melissa

    Not really. It would be very good for this country's economy to get the olympics because the country that holds the olympics every four years ends up with billions of dollars in its pocket. This is actually a good idea. Very few people think this is a risk, except those that are trying to cause trouble.

    September 29, 2009 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
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