By Kathleen Hennessey and Christi Parsons, Tribune Washington Bureau –
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama told his team he wants them “leaning forward” in their response to the storm that has battered a wide swath of the country, including thinking about creative ways to end power outages quickly.
In a Situation Room meeting that lasted more than an hour Tuesday, Obama told national security and emergency management officials to make sure the federal government is doing everything it can to help people affected by the storm, a White House official said.
“I want everyone leaning forward on this,” the president said, according to the official. “I don’t want to hear that we didn’t do something because bureaucracy got in the way.”
The meeting took place after Obama declared that he would stay off the campaign trail for another day to keep his focus on the federal efforts to recovery from Hurricane Sandy.
Obama will remain in Washington on Wednesday to “ensure that all available federal resources continue to be provided to support ongoing state and local recovery efforts,” White House spokesman Jay Carney announced in a statement.
The schedule change will bring to three the number of days Obama has scrapped campaigning to deal with Sandy. The president had been slated to campaign in Ohio, with rallies in Cincinnati and Akron, both important battlegrounds in the election.
The time away is a major interruption of the Obama campaign’s endgame just a week before Election Day. It also seems to run counter to the White House’s previous repeated assertions that the president can conduct official business on the road as easily as at the White House.
But in this case, the Obama team has clearly determined that it is good politics to show the president hard at work using the power of the federal government.
Obama ditched a campaign event at last minute on Monday, missing a chance to stump with President Bill Clinton in Orlando, in order to rush back to White House before the worst of the storm hit Washington.
Since then, the president delivered a statement from the White House, dismissing his battle with GOP rival Mitt Romney in a phrase: “The election will take care of itself next week.” The White House has released photos of the president managing a briefing in the situation room and consulting with grave-faced advisers.
Obama received another briefing Tuesday, in which he expressed his “concern for those impacted” and “sadness over the loss of life,” according to a description of the meeting provided by the White House. Obama also directed his team of emergency and security officials “to make sure all available resources” are being provided to state and local officials and first responders and to “resolve any potential bottlenecks or shortfalls,” the statement said.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, one of the chief surrogates for Obama’s challenger Mitt Romney, told ABC News Monday that the president had called him at midnight Monday to ask if there was anything the administration could do to help his state.
“I have to say, the administration, the president himself and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate have been outstanding with us so far, Christie said on the network’s “Good Morning America’’ show. “We have a great partnership with them.”
Meanwhile, Romney’s challenge has been to show empathy and concern, without having much to actually do about the storm. On Wednesday, the GOP candidate’s campaign rally was refashioned into fundraiser for recovery efforts. Attendees brought canned good and other donations. His campaign announced Tuesday that it would resume campaign rallies in Florida on Wednesday.