Obama’s Olympic flop: Was trip to boost Chicago’s bid a mistake?

Chicago's Olympics elimination in the first round is a blow to Obama's prestige. But the president, criticized for jetting off to Copenhagen at a crucial time, has no regrets, says an adviser.

By , Staff writer

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    At the 121st International Olympic Committee Session in Copenhagen, Denmark, US President Barack Obama, flanked by first lady Michelle Obama and Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, makes his pitch Friday for Chicago to host the 2016 Summer Olympics.
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The elimination of Chicago from the competition to host the 2016 Summer Games deals a blow to President Obama’s international prestige.

Particularly embarrassing was Chicago’s elimination in the first round of voting. Though Olympic site selection is a notoriously opaque process, the thinking was that the choice would boil down to Rio de Janeiro (which won) and Chicago, and that an in-person pitch from Mr. Obama for his adopted hometown might tip the scales.

Obama took a fair amount of grief from political opponents for flying off to Copenhagen late this week for the International Olympic Committee’s site-selection meeting. He was the first US president to make such an Olympic appeal in person.

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But with so much on his plate – healthcare reform, economy in the dumps, a critical decision looming on the war in Afghanistan – the trip seemed a distraction and perhaps below an American president’s station. He himself had originally opted not to go, citing his healthcare priority.

The gambit failed. And now the second-guessing begins. Was Obama’s trip a mistake, and will there be lasting repercussions? Obama’s top political adviser, David Axelrod, insists he made the right choice.

"I am proud of this president for going to make the case for this country," Mr. Axelrod said on MSNBC. "Anytime you're going to make the case for the United States of America, you're doing the right thing.”

The White House hedged its bets on the usefulness of the trip by also having Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Obama's chief military adviser on Afghanistan, fly over to Copenhagen from London for a meeting aboard Air Force One. The plane sat on the tarmac while the two met for 25 minutes.

Once back in Washington, Obama will deliver brief remarks from the Rose Garden. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters on the plane that Obama will address the September unemployment numbers – another bit of bad news, as joblessness rose 0.1 percent to 9.8 percent.

Bottom line for Obama: The Copenhagen trip represents a setback, but given the pace of events, it is likely to recede in memory fast.

As to whether Obama could have better used the time he spent flying to and from Copenhagen, plus the few hours he spent on the ground there, Axelrod insisted there was little opportunity cost. Obama left Washington at 7 p.m. on Thursday evening and will be back at the White House in time to deliver his Rose Garden remarks at 4 p.m.

"I think it was well worth the investment of time, and I have no regrets about that and I know [Obama] doesn't," Axelrod said on MSNBC.

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Rio de Janeiro wins out as host of 2016 Olympics
Tens of thousands of ecstatic Brazilians, crowded along the city's famed Copacabana beach, erupted in cheers and dancing when the news was announced. More here.

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