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Japan. Libya. The deficit. Did Obama have time to go on ESPN?

After Obama announced his 'bracket' choices on live TV, he drew fire from Republicans for not focusing more on world crises and the deficit. Was his ESPN appearance a bit of March Madness?

By Staff writer / March 17, 2011

President Barack Obama signs the condolence book during his visit to the Japanese Embassy in Washington on Thursday, March 17.

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Washington

Obama-bashing is nothing new for Republicans. But this week, the president handed his political opponents an especially juicy target: a live appearance Wednesday on ESPN to announce his “bracket” choices for the NCAA basketball tournament.

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It was President Obama’s only public appearance of the day, having canceled an event to receive an award for government transparency. In the evening, Mr. Obama spoke at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser, which was open only to the press pool. On Friday, he leaves for four days in Latin America.

All the while, the nuclear crisis in Japan deepens and the uprising against Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi appears close to defeat while the UN debates what to do. Obama’s plate of domestic issues is just as full, with budget negotiations continuing amid the threat of a government shutdown.

Japan's nuclear crisis: A timeline of key events

“The job can wait: Obama has better things to do,” blared the headline on a release Thursday morning from the National Republican Congressional Committee. “President chooses to do nothing to solve deficit problem or world crises as reelection and foreign travel beckon.”

Obama’s schedule for Thursday was hardly better, in the eyes of Republicans. He took part in several St. Patrick’s Day events, including a meeting with the Irish prime minister in the Oval Office. And while he did make an unannounced visit to the Japanese Embassy to sign the condolence book and was scheduled to make a statement on Japan later in the afternoon, he stuck with his plan to travel south on Friday.

Every day this week, White House spokesman Jay Carney has faced questions from reporters about Obama’s insistence that he stay on plan and go to South and Central America, where the US has important economic relationships. He reminds the press that, as president, Obama travels with a large staff and has a sophisticated communications setup.

But the fact is, the president postponed foreign trips twice last year – both to Indonesia and Australia. The first delay came as the battle for his health-care reform legislation was coming to a head in Congress, and the second time, he delayed over the BP oil spill.

National debt ceiling 101: Is a crisis looming?

In his briefing Wednesday, Carney made the distinction between foreign and domestic matters. “It is a crisis in Japan; it is not a crisis in the United States,” Carney said. “We are very concerned about our allies and friends, the Japanese. We are doing everything we can to help and assist them. We are very concerned about the safety and security of American citizens in Japan, and we are doing everything we can to ensure their safety. But it is – we have no plans to change the trip.”

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