Obama is scheduled to leave Saturday night on what originally was a four-nation tour. But the White House has called off the final two stops in Malaysia and the Philippines and is re-evaluating the stops in Indonesia and Brunei, where Obama is to participate in regional economic forums.
“We intend to have the president… make that trip because it’s important,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday. “We’ll obviously evaluate this as each day goes by.”
The shutdown took effect early Tuesday after Congress missed its deadline to fund the government.
National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said that since Malaysia and the Philippines were “on the back end of the president’s” trip, personnel was not yet in place and “we were not able to go forward with planning.”
She blamed the cancellation on “House Republicans forcing a shutdown of the government.”
“This completely avoidable shutdown is setting back our ability to promote U.S. exports and advance U.S. leadership in the largest emerging region in the world,” Hayden said.
The White House said Obama spoke by telephone Tuesday with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and Philippine President Benigno Aquino III to tell them he wouldn’t be coming next week and to commit to visiting both countries later in his term.
The prime minister said he understood. “If I were in his shoes, I would do the same,” Najib said in Kuala Lumpur.
From Manila, Aquino spokesman Ricky Carandang also said Obama’s decision was understandable. He said he looked forward to welcoming Obama “at a more opportune time.”
Mike Green, senior vice president for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, described scrapping the stops in Malaysia and the Philippines as a blow to both countries and a loss for Obama at a time when the administration’s much talked about “pivot” to Asia is being questioned in the region.
Obama was to have been the first U.S. president to visit Malaysia since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966.
Green said backing out of the Indonesia and Brunei summits would make matters worse.
“Showing up is very important,” Green said.
Secretary of State John Kerry, who left Washington on Tuesday for Asia and planned to join Obama in Indonesia and Brunei, will represent the U.S. in Malaysia and the Philippines next week, said State Department spokeswom-an Jen Psaki.
The trip is part of Obama’s broader focus on boosting U.S. economic ties with Asia and raising America’s profile in the region.
Obama canceled trips to Asia twice in 2010, first to stay in Washington for votes on his health care law and later because of a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Associated Press