President Barack Obama returns to work at the White House after eight days in Asia with his Cabinet members under fire, a decision on Afghanistan pending and an urgent mandate to tackle job creation. And that’s just a start.
Obama also has to get through his first state visit as president, honoring Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday.
“I think the White House feels like they lost a week of critical, strategic importance,” said Matt Mackowiak, a Republican strategist and former Senate staffer. “Going into next week, there is going to be a real sense of urgency.” While Obama was away, Republican lawmakers stepped up their calls for the resignation of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, while Attorney General Eric Holder was grilled over the administration’s plans to put accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed on trial in a Manhattan court.
White House, focused for the past week on issues relating to Asia, lost control of the narrative on the U.S. economy. The president was absent for a boomlet of stories about misspent stimulus funds, leaving a message vacuum that Republicans were happy to fill.
Before the end of the year, Obama must decide whether to extend the Troubled Asset Relief Program.
“Even the president in China in the last 48 hours said, quote, ‘If we keep adding to the debt, even in the midst of this recovery, people could lose confidence in the U.S. economy,’” Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind. said. “Well, Mr. President, we have news for you: We are adding to the debt today, the people are losing confidence in this economy because of the fiscal recklessness of the Democratic majority and this administration here in Washington, D.C.”
In the coming weeks, the administration plans to tackle the persistent job creation problem with a summit on jobs. In a series of interviews overseas with U.S. television network reporters, Obama pushed back at suggestions the summit was too little, too late, with unemployment at 10.2 percent.
“Businesses are starting to invest again, they are starting to be profitable again, but they haven’t started hiring again,” Obama told NBC News. “And so the goal of the jobs summit is figure out are there ways of us accelerating that hiring.” The president promised a decision on Afghanistan “in the next several weeks,” and signaled the decision would address a long-missing endgame strategy for the eight-year-old war.
“This decision will put us on a path towards ending the war,” Obama said.
It was unclear when Obama would find the time for a major Afghanistan announcement. Next month he heads to Norway for a quick trip to collect his Nobel Peace Price and may add a stop at a climate change summit in Denmark.
The jobs summit is set for Dec. 3.
The president is not expected to make his announcement during Thanksgiving week, and before Christmas he will head to Hawaii for a family vacation.