Health Care

Obama Postpones Trip To Indonesia

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President Obama is delaying his trip to Asia next week to focus on his big push on health care. The White House tweeted the announcement. His family was going to go with him but they will not now. The White House wanted Congress to act on the health care bill by March 18, Obama's original departure date.


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

We're hearing from the White House this morning that President Barack Obama will delay his trip to Indonesia and elsewhere in the South Pacific. The president had planned to leave next Thursday, but the health-care bill is at a critical juncture in Washington, so possibly not a great time to leave Washington, D.C.

NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea joins us now. Hi, Don.

DON GONYEA: Hey. Good morning.

MONTAGNE: So what specifically is the White House saying about this delay in this trip?

GONYEA: I can tell you, we are hearing everything they have to say so far in 140 characters or less. They tweeted it this morning, and to my - as far as I can tell, it's the first time we've gotten confirmation on a story like this that way. But here's what press secretary Robert Gibbs said in that message: The president will delay leaving for Indonesia and Australia. He will now leave Sunday. The first lady and the girls will not be on the trip. They had originally planned on accompanying the president.

So that is officially what they have said. But again, they have been getting pressure and a lot of questions over the last several days, wondering why he is leaving on this trip with health care coming to such a critical place, how he could possibly even consider leaving. So we now get this today - not a total surprise.

MONTAGNE: Well, where was Mr. Obama then - when he was going on this trip, specifically where he was supposed to go - why was he going on this trip in the first place?

GONYEA: Well, he - the first stop was going to be Guam, then Indonesia - two stops in Indonesia, Bali and Jakarta - and then on to Australia. In Australia, he was going to mark the 70th anniversary of relations between the United States and Australia - so, very important, especially for the Australians, to have him there. In terms of the actual itinerary, in Guam, he was going to meet with U.S. service members there. Indonesia, of course, is the most populous Muslim country in the world. And the president still, presumably, plans to announce a comprehensive partnership of some kind between those two nations on that trip. And again, it's part of his outreach to the Muslim world. Also worth nothing that he spent some time in his youth in Indonesia. So it's kind of a bit of a homecoming, and he will certainly be welcomed as, you know, as a former resident when he goes there.

MONTAGNE: The delay, though, does free him up to continue to press for health care. What do you expect to see next week from the president?

GONYEA: Look for him to hold a lot of health care-related events. There is already one scheduled for Strongsville, Ohio, on Monday. That's not too far from Cleveland, and it will be very similar to the one he held in St. Charles, Missouri, earlier this week. And then there was also one in Philadelphia on Monday. So he's trying to get out around the country to really frame the issue in the way that he sees he needs to frame it to put pressure on - especially Democrats who are wavering or nervous or reluctant to vote for health-care legislation.

But here is the other thing: The White House had set this deadline of March 18th. Again, it was kind of an arbitrary deadline. It was set to have things done before he left for this trip, left on this trip, to, you know, to have everything wrapped up. And it looked like that wasn't going to happen. We now see that Congress has already delayed that. So this frees him up to twist arms.

Also worth pointing out, that in the past, when he has left the country at critical points - especially last November, when he went to China - they seem to lose the momentum they had. They don't want that to happen this time.

MONTAGNE: NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea. Thanks very much.

GONYEA: My pleasure.

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