September 29th, 2009
12:18 PM ET
14 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. Bedtime for Obonzo

    Just imagine the opportunities for corruption by Chicago government, unions, contractors, maybe even "community organizers." A new stimulous plan - Chicago style.

    September 29, 2009 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  2. Jim

    With the communication available to President Obama, what is the problem ? Oh yes, I remember now, he is a democrat.

    September 29, 2009 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
  3. Illinois 2

    Keep the politians out of the Olympic Games... Chicago can't take care of their own problems, let alone the vast problems created by these games.

    September 29, 2009 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
  4. ajks

    The Olympics will make a huge economic increase for the United States. I am glad that the President and Mrs. Obama are making a bid for the Olympics, and for the prestige that they would lend the Olympics here in the U.S.

    September 29, 2009 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  5. spenser M

    you know the olympics bring profits as well...

    September 29, 2009 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  6. GI Joe

    Change has already happened. The American people have seen the true colors of the Republicans and Blue Dogs. Not pretty at all.

    This is OUR country, and should be run by and for us, not the Insurance Companies.

    September 29, 2009 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  7. Sean

    "His number one responsibility is to keep our country safe." Seriously? Who is this guy, Superman? What, he leaves Metropolis for any length of time and Lex Luthor will swoop in and destroy everything? Gimme a break. This is the President of the United States. He is connected 24/7 to his advisers, to the military, to the so-called nuclear "football". He can lead the country every bit as efficiently from Copenhagen as he can from Air Force One or Dick Cheney's "undisclosed location". Let's not play the screaming patriot-wannabe here. Grow up.

    September 29, 2009 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  8. Duck Fallas

    "His number one responsibility is to keep our country safe."

    Says who? George Bush?

    Republicans have to stop making things up.

    September 29, 2009 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  9. ran

    Fear/hate and obstructionism must be a Republican speaking again.

    Short of President Obama leaving office permanently the GOP will never be happy with what he does.

    That is why we should just go directly to Single payer non-profit universal health care now. Then on to energy and immigration reform. Leave the GOP in the past because they seem happy there.

    September 29, 2009 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  10. Anonymous

    please give this smart, active president credit for being able to multi-task here. i am very proud of president obama being able to juggle so many issues and still be on top of his game. the republicans just can not stand the fact that we have a very young,strong, decision making leader here. to have the olimpics come to the US will bring much needed revenue and many jobs to chicago so please republicans just take off your nasty hats just this once and let our president do his job..........BEING OUR PRESIDENT!

    September 29, 2009 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  11. Brian

    As I understand it, the trip to Copenhagen will be a day trip: leave in the morning, return that night. Strictly a business trip, w/ the potential economic benefits to the Chicago area stagering. Well worth a few hours of his valuable time.

    September 29, 2009 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  12. Henry Miller, Libertarian, Cary, North Carolina

    And who's paying the costs of Obama's little sales trip? I expect the cost of a round trip by Air Force One to Denmark, plus, I'm assuming, the costs of various auxiliary aircraft, plus the costs of all the advance work, and on and on, is upwards of a few million bucks.

    So, is the US taxpayer expected to pick up the tab for all that?

    September 29, 2009 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  13. Terry from West Texas

    Sen. Kit Bond, R-Missouri: "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."

    He's got a point. I hear that there are no phones or computers on Air Force One so the president will be totally out of touch with the rest of the world. Also, when he gets to Copenhagen, I hear that there are no phones or computers there either. You know Europe is kind of backward.

    Lyndon Johnson said, "If I walked across the Potomac, the headlines the next day would be 'President Can't Swim.'"

    September 29, 2009 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  14. Mike

    With all the real problems this country faces, mostly caused by nobama, here he is trying to get the olympics in that "septic tank of a city" called chicago. Must be some money for the under the table crowd who support nobama who want more payback.

    September 29, 2009 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  15. Debra R

    Obama...get back to work....we did not hire you to get us the olympics, we hired you to run the country (well I didn't...thank GOD). is your ego so big that this cannot be delegated to someone else while you tend to Iran, Korea, the know the stuff you said you were going to handle....

    September 29, 2009 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  16. Enough

    Shows where this mans priorities are........NOT here. He has some tough decisions to make on the war, the economy is in the toilet, ACORN has wasted millions of our dollars, Health care needs to be dealt with and off he goes campaigning for the Olympics.

    September 29, 2009 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  17. Lila

    First he's doing too much. Then he's not doing enough. Then he's doing too much again..

    September 29, 2009 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  18. Rick

    I find it very inappropriate that the first lady would make that comment. Not that I would want to tangle with her even if she had gloves on but I find it very crasp of her to make that comment. I gues it is what we should expect from the wife of the Fuhrer. She obviously has the same mindset as him and that is that they can do no wrong. Well, wake up MS obmaa, nobody elected you or gave you the go ahead to be the spokeswoman for the US in obtaining the olympics. Maybe you better spend more time in your garden and less time taking extravagent trips at our expense.

    September 29, 2009 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  19. SLM

    When the going gets tough, Obama jets out of town. Not a good move, but he already knows he is a one term president anyway. Obama is in way over his head and doesn't make any of the tough decisions, always leaving someone else to blame. That's what you get when you elect a community organizer/Junior senator who votes "present" instead of having an opinion. Well Mr. Obama, no more voting present.

    September 29, 2009 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  20. Erik in Real Pennsylvania

    This is a mistake. The President can't be perceived (or characterized) as weighing in on relatively trivial things, despite the economic boost to the metropolitan area under consideration.

    September 29, 2009 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  21. Thomas

    I do not think it is appropriate for the President to become involved in this matter. If it is truly about improving the economy (which I don't believe it will) then why does not the Secretary of Commerce go?

    There are many high level government officials that can go in the President's place.

    LA has been the only American city that was able to successfully host the olympics from a financial standpoint. I do not believe that Chicago is the best city for the olympics. It will end up costing the state and the nation a lot of money.

    Why not let some other country host it instead?

    September 29, 2009 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  22. Gerald

    The push is payback only , dinner with Oprah and the likes.

    September 29, 2009 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  23. Ray

    It's not like the man is vacationing there. He is stopping by (a quick day trip) to get the games in Chicago. Big Deal!!!

    I would think having the games here would be a pretty good economic boost....

    September 29, 2009 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  24. ysidero

    i think it's great that the president can look at the big picture, and lend his support and a little bit of his time to something positive for a major american city and the whole nation. this olympic bid, if successful, will contribute to job growth, infrastructure improvements, and civic pride – whats not to like about all that? and, the games wont occur until 2016, so this is a good example of giving up a little in the present for huge benefits in the future – a lesson others should learn.

    September 29, 2009 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  25. Blutarski

    Yeah, come to Chicago, have a few laughs, watch an honor student get beaten to death by a violent mob in the street. He is wasting his time, there is no way the Olympic Committee will pick the most corrupt and violent city in the U.S. (next to New Orleans). Hold the Olympics in Kabul, let them foot the bill for Nation Building instead of the U.S.

    I guess the Obamas have a lot of people in the Chicago area to pay back. Maybe Rezko is calling in some favors, or perhaps his buddy Nahdim Auchi. Any money generated by this event were it to be held in Chicago(bang bang) will be syphoned off by union bosses, and corrupt politicians and businessmen. Imagine the Big Dig, but on a larger scale.

    September 29, 2009 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
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