WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama has delayed his visit to Asia, his first international trip of the year, to focus on the push to salvage health care legislation after a year of contentious debate.
The trip to Guam, Australia and Indonesia — the world's most populous Muslim country, where Obama spent several years as a youngster — will now run from March 21-26, rather than March 18-24, according to a senior administration official who spoke condition of anonymity because the White House hadn't announced the delay.
The trip was scheduled to coincide with his daughters' spring vacation from school, but now his family apparently will not accompany him because of the later dates.
Press secretary Robert Gibbs had insisted that Congress act on health legislation by March 18 — Obama's original departure date. But the White House seemed to back off that as Democratic leaders tried to round up enough votes for passage of Obama's top priority.
On his trip, Obama plans to launch a comprehensive partnership with Indonesia, mark the 70th anniversary of U.S.-Australia relations and discuss Afghanistan and nuclear nonproliferation with Australia's leaders. In the U.S. territory of Guam, he will meet with military personnel.
Obama's American mother married an Indonesian after divorcing Obama's Kenyan father, and the future president attended school in the capital, Jakarta, from 1967 to 1971.
It was the third foreign trip that Obama has shifted at the last minute to reflect changing developments.
His last trip to Asia, in November, was delayed and cut short by a day so Obama could attend a memorial service in Texas for the 13 people killed in the shooting at the Fort Hood Army base. In December, he delayed his appearance at an international climate summit in Copenhagen by more than a week, going at the end of the two-week gathering instead of toward the beginning, to take advantage of improving chances for political agreement.
Also on Friday, the White House announced plans for Michelle Obama's first solo trip abroad as first lady. She will visit Mexico City on April 13-15, focusing on education and economic advancement.
In the health care push on Capitol Hill, top Democrats are working to resolve disputes over Obama's plan, with difficult decisions ahead.
House Democrats planned to meet on Friday to discuss the evolving plan and for leaders to try to soothe lawmakers worried about the price they might pay in November's congressional elections for supporting it.
Even with initial votes possible next week, few were claiming that Democrats had the votes in hand to prevail — especially in the House, where the roll call is expected to be a cliffhanger.
The legislation would restrict how insurance companies dole out coverage to customers, require most people to carry policies and extend coverage to 30 million uninsured Americans, financed by slowing the growth of Medicare and raising some taxes.