Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (right) and Lt. Gov. Michael Steele await the start of the 130th Preakness Stakes. (Sun photo by Lloyd Fox)
Republican National Chairman Michael S. Steele said Tuesday that President Barack Obama's upcoming trip to Copenhagen is "nice" but not essential business for the president.
Steele began a brief telephone news conference by criticizing Obama's lack of focus on the biggest problem facing the country: weakness in the economy, which Steele said is still in recession.
The former Maryland lieutenant governor said he had watched Obama push an economic stimulus plan, then "lurch into cap-and-trade, and then into health care," and now he's "pitching the Olympics in Copenhagen."
In answer to a reporter's question during a telephone news conference, Steele said it was "a noble idea for the president to pitch his home city, Chi-town," but that "at a time of war" and recession, "this trip, while nice, is not necessary for the president."
Obama plans to leave Washington on Thursday to lobby members of the International Olympic Committee the next morning at their decision-making meeting in Denmark.
The overnight trip is seen by some as a risky political gamble for a president currently enmeshed in a number of difficult issues, from pushing an embattled Democratic health care plan through Congress to combatting Iran's nuclear ambitions and choosing a future course for the war in Afghanistan.
Steele said the president should be focusing on creating jobs now, not "job opportunities seven years from now" in Chicago. He said that First Lady Michelle Obama should have been the leading salesperson for the bid.
But pressed on whether he regarded the trip as a mistake, Steele said, "Mistake is in the eye of the beholder."
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs took a swipe at Steele when asked about the Republican chairman's criticism of the president's trip.
"Who's he rooting for?" Gibbs replied, to laughter from reporters. "Is he hoping to hop a plane to Brazil and catch the Olympics in Rio? Maybe it's Madrid."