In a rare admission, the White House today said it made a mistake in not sending a higher-level official to represent the U.S. at the unity rally in Paris on Sunday, in the wake of last week’s terror attacks.
“I think it’s fair to say that we should have sent someone with a higher profile to be there,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters.
Had circumstances been different, Earnest said, President Obama would have liked the opportunity to be there.
Instead, the U.S. was represented at the rally by Ambassador to France Jane Hartley.
Meanwhile, Obama spent a quiet weekend at the White House, just blocks from a similar rally held in Washington.
The security apparatus for the president and vice president is extensive and goes beyond what is required for many other world leaders. For instance, the president cannot be in open spaces, like a public rally, unless it is subject to a full security sweep.
Secretary of State John Kerry described the pushback earlier today as “quibbling,” saying the US-France relationship is “not about one day or one particular moment.”
Kerry, who was on a previously planned trip to India this weekend, said he would have like to have been there and announced plans to travel to France on Thursday to reaffirm U.S. solidarity with its oldest ally.
“I am going there on the way home, to make it crystal clear how passionately we feel about the events that have taken place there,” he said.
Attorney General Eric Holder was also in Paris this past weekend to attend an emergency counterterrorism meeting at the French Interior Ministry, but had to return to Washington late Sunday, according to the Justice Department.
“He was proud to join the world leaders gathered in Paris at a summit convened by President Hollande before the unity rally. Standing alongside French officials, the Attorney General declared 'we are all citizens of France,' and pledged the Justice Department's continued assistance to the French authorities as they conduct their investigation,” a spokesman said.
Obama was quick to condemn the terrorist assault on the satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo as “cowardly evil attacks” against freedom of speech and repeatedly promised last week to stand by the people of France.