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White House and Capitol Hill in Forced Leisure Mode

Image: White House and Capitol Hill in Forced Leisure Mode

By Elliot Jager   |   Tuesday, 08 Oct 2013 10:04 AM

The government shutdown has left President Barack Obama with time on his hands as crucial staffers who organize his day-to-day schedule have been furloughed.

On Monday, he paid a surprise visit to the Federal Emergency Management Agency's headquarters in Washington where he thanked workers for doing their jobs under "less than optimal circumstances." Last Friday he and Vice President Joe Biden took a shirtsleeve stroll down Pennsylvania Avenue to grab sandwiches at a nearby coffee shop.

The president has given some previously scheduled speeches and granted a lengthy interview at the White House to the Associated Press.

Obama is trying to convey — without traveling around the country — that he empathizes with ordinary Americans over the distress caused by the shutdown. At the same time, he needs to stay close to metro-Washington lest it look like he's not on top of the crisis, according to Politico.

Wherever he goes the message is the same — urging Republicans to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling.

"It's repetition of the argument over and over again, which he clearly has to do to continue to hold the high side of the debate here," Mike McCurry, Bill Clinton's press secretary during the 1995-96 shutdown, told Politico. "The advantage of being here is that you can use the bully pulpit to effect," McCurry added.

For appearances sake, the President and First Lady did not go out to celebrate their twenty-first wedding anniversary on Thursday, and Obama also stayed away from the golf course over the weekend.

Over on Capitol Hill the situation is much the same. Both houses of Congress are in session. The senate approved several non-controversial judicial confirmations and its Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee advanced a nomination.
But many committee hearings have been postponed, Roll Call reported.

Legal and legislative aides who do the essential preparatory work, drafting statements, preparing questions, and crafting bills, have been sent home. There are insufficient maintenance crews to arrange the committee rooms and clean up afterwards, as a result of furloughs at the Architect of the Capitol's office.

For both the White House and Congress there is the sense that neither the press nor public are interested in much besides the government shutdown. And in a "one-story town" both sides want to appear as if bringing the crisis to an end is their highest priority, Roll Call reported.

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