Health Care Delays Obama’s Foreign Trip

Mar 12, 2010 9:29am

ABC News' Jake Tapper, Ann Compton and Sunlen Miller report:

Speaking volumes about how the votes are not yet there for health care reform, President Obama has decided to delay his trip to Asia.

The president was due to leave for a trip to Guam, Indonesia and Australia on Thursday, March 18th, and return to Washington, D.C., on March 24th. The White House confirmed this morning that the trip will be delayed by three days.  The president will now leave Sunday, March 21st, and return to Washington on Friday, March 26th.

White House officials and congressional Democratic sources say that while they believe ultimately the compromise House –Senate legislation will pass, as of now House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., does not have the votes. 

She needs 216 votes — a majority of the House which currently has 431 members — to pass the Senate bill and changes to the Senate bill. Anti abortion democrats led by Rep. Bart Stupak, D- Mich., have said they will not support the Senate bill since it has less restrictive language on abortion than the House bill.

Democratic congressional leaders had asked the president to delay his trip until the health care reform vote is over so as to personally appeal to House Democrats to vote for the bill that has consumed so much of his presidency.

"The President will delay leaving for Indonesia and Australia – will now leave Sunday – the First Lady and the girls will not be on the trip,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs tweeted this morning. The First Lady's office says the delay of the long trip with the rough time zone change does not allow for enough recovery time before the girls go back to school, so the first family decided it was best for the girls to not go.

The White House had set a March 18th deadline – the day the president was to have left for his trip – for Congress to finish health care refom negotiations. As recently as Tuesday, the White House had expressed confidence that they were still within that goal. Yet, at yesterday’s briefing, Gibbs for the first time indicated that the deadline may have to be shifted.

“If it takes a couple extra days after a year, it takes a couple of extra days,” Gibbs said yesterday, “It is time for Congress to vote.  That's what the president wants.  Quite frankly, that's what Speaker Pelosi, that's what Majority Leader Reid want.  We are working toward that.  We're — I know that CBO is evaluating different aspects of the legislation. Our hope is to get this done as soon as possible.”

This move responds to frustrations bubbling up privately from members of Congress – tensions that emerged publicly with the debate over deadlines. There was a wide perception on the Hill that this particular deadline was in place mostly so the president could enjoy spring break with his kids.

Yesterday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., made clear she’s not too keen on deadlines set by the White House.

“March 18th is a very interesting date,” Pelosi said, referring to the White House’s preferred deadline. She said the new bill – which will change aspects of the Senate bill that are unacceptable to the House – is not complete and won’t be until the Congressional Budget Office has provided an official cost estimate.

After that happens, the Pelosi said, the House will need “at least one week” to consider the bill before a final vote.

The president's family will not be joining him. Gibbs had expressed irritation yesterday with a question during the daily press briefing about this trip being something of a vacation for the family, with Sasha and Malia on spring break.

“It’s not a vacation at all,” he said back to a reporter.

-Jake Tapper, Ann Compton, and Sunlen Miller

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