- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 21, 2016

Even by his own vacation standards, President Obama was nearly invisible over the past two weeks on the island playground of Martha’s Vineyard while emergencies mounted on the mainland.

Louisiana flooded while Mr. Obama golfed, and golfed, until he was upstaged by Donald Trump, who toured the flood damage on Friday.

Milwaukee rioted and burned, while the president partied late into the night.

Accusations that the administration paid ransom to Iran for hostages resurfaced with a fury, while a reclusive Mr. Obama hit the links for the ninth time — with Sen. Bernard Sanders impersonator Larry David as his playing partner.

Mr. Obama, who returned to Washington on Sunday night, interrupted his vacation routine for only one quasi-public appearance — to raise money for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign with a small group of well-heeled Democrats at a donor’s private home on the island.

“Michelle is very strict about me actually taking a vacation when I get a vacation,” the president told the donors.


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Louisiana residents weren’t amused, criticizing Mr. Obama for failing to travel there to survey flood damage. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Republican, called Mr. Obama’s absence a “dereliction of duty” and said former President Bill Clinton was better at showing compassion on such occasions.

On Friday, Mr. Trump toured the flood zone, where at least 13 people died and 40,000 homes were damaged, and mocked the president’s failure to show up. “The president says he doesn’t want to come, he is trying to get out of a golf game,” Mr. Trump told volunteers at a church in Greenwell Springs, Louisiana.

That’s when White House finally announced that the president, too, would visit Baton Rouge on Tuesday. The announcement included a mild rebuke of Mr. Trump’s actions, saying Mr. Obama “wants to ensure that his presence does not interfere with ongoing recovery efforts.”

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, initially criticized Mr. Trump’s visit as a “photo-op,” but said Sunday that the Republican nominee “helped to shine a spotlight on Louisiana and on the dire situation that we have here.”

Republican strategist John Feehery said another striking aspect of Mr. Obama’s decision to keep out of sight was how most of the media gave the president a pass for his lack of visible involvement in the emergencies.

“When George Bush did a flyover of Katrina, he was accused of being a racist,” he said of the hurricane that devastated New Orleans in 2005. “The fact that Obama can get away with playing golf while Baton Rouge floods tells you a lot about the media double standard.”

At the time, entertainer Kanye West accused Mr. Bush of not caring about black people. Many people on social media in the past week derisively called on Mr. West to similarly denounce Mr. Obama.

Mr. Obama himself criticized Mr. Bush in 2008 for his actions during Katrina, bemoaning “a president who only saw the people from a window on an airplane instead of down here on the ground, trying to provide comfort and aid.”

White House aides said Mr. Obama worked on vacation, calling Mr. Edwards, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson about the floods. During two nights of rioting in Milwaukee, the president’s involvement consisted primarily of receiving an update from adviser Valerie Jarrett, who spoke on the phone with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

Democratic strategist James Manley said a trip by Mr. Obama to Louisiana last week would have done “more harm than good” due to “the security problems that come with moving around with the president of the United States.”

Mr. Edwards said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that he asked Mr. Obama to stay away until first responders were able to do their work.

“I asked them to let us get out of the response mode where we were still conducting searches of houses and we were still making rescues,” the governor said. “I didn’t want to divert these police officers, sheriff’s deputies and state troopers and other essential resources and assets to providing security for the president while they were need in this region to undertake those response activities. And I asked that if he could wait until the response was over.”

Mrs. Clinton didn’t assert herself much into the vacuum left by Mr. Obama on the Milwaukee rioting or the Louisiana flooding. She made a brief reference to the Milwaukee rioting last week, saying it showed the “urgent work to do to rebuild trust between police and communities.”

 

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