Since returning from a trip to Southeast Asia on Nov. 21, President Obama has managed to play three rounds of golf but has met face to face only once with House Speaker John A. Boehner, the man with whom he is trying to strike a deal on taxes and spending that could prevent another recession.
With the deadline for averting the "fiscal cliff" less than three weeks away, the president's schedule this week is exceptionally light. It does not include any time on the links with Mr. Boehner, Ohio Republican, who is also an avid golfer.
On Monday, Mr. Obama's only public event was a trip to Detroit, where he held a campaign-style rally with union autoworkers that was ostensibly a push for middle-class tax cuts but mainly showcased Mr. Obama's criticism of Michigan's new right-to-work labor law.
"It seems to me, that time would have been better spent here in Washington, D.C., working on the fiscal cliff, but he was in Michigan," said Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican.
On Tuesday, Mr. Obama had lunch with Vice President Joseph R. Biden and spoke with Mr. Boehner by phone late in the day.
The president spent much of his evening with first lady Michelle Obama posing for photographs with members of the White House press corps and their guests at a holiday party. Mr. Obama hosted another media party at the White House on Dec. 5.
On Wednesday, the president held a meeting and conference call with mayors of both major parties from across the country, seeking support for his proposal to raise taxes on families earning at least $250,000 per year. It was Mr. Obama's only scheduled event of the day, aside from his daily briefing.
White House press secretary Jay Carney defended the president's schedule Wednesday. He said Mr. Obama is working hard to reach a deal with congressional Republicans and that part of that effort is marshaling public support for his fiscal position, with events such as the one in Michigan.
"I think you've seen the president actively engaged in moving the process forward," Mr. Carney said. "The president has made clear his willingness to negotiate and compromise."
Mr. Obama has spoken with Mr. Boehner by phone several times, and the conversations have been described as everything from "curt" to "cordial." Nobody on either side has ventured to describe them as "productive."
When he is not talking with the speaker, Mr. Obama has been hosting more holiday parties, an obligatory role of the president at this time of year.
An administration official said the White House is hosting more than 25 holiday parties this month. A White House spokesman wouldn't confirm that number but said the president and first lady are hosting parties for "volunteers, members of Congress, White House staff, Secret Service personnel, White House reporters and Americans from across the country." In all, about 14,000 people will attend a White House party or reception this holiday season.
In addition, Mr. Obama attended a holiday concert Sunday at the National Building Museum and presided over the national tree-lighting ceremony along the Mall on Dec. 6.
Among the few other events on Mr. Obama's recent schedule were a Dec. 3 meeting with the prime minister of Bulgaria, a Cabinet meeting on Nov. 28 and a private lunch at the White House on Nov. 29 with his vanquished Republican opponent, Mitt Romney.
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