WASHINGTON — President Obama used a surprise walk out of the White House to get a sandwich and put the spotlight on the government shutdown as it continued Friday with no negotiations scheduled with House Speaker John Boehner.
Obama strolled unannounced out of the White House gate, making his way along with Vice President Joe Biden a block up Pennsylvania Avenue to a Taylor Gourmet deli that was offering a discount to furloughed federal employees.
“As long as they’re off the job, nobody’s winning,” Obama said as he walked up to place his order.
He was responding to a reporter’s question about a quote in The Wall Street Journal from an anonymous senior administration official who reportedly said the White House was “winning” in the clash over the shutdown, and that the length of the shutdown “doesn’t really matter to us.” Obama bristled at the suggestion.
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“There’s no winning when families don’t have certainty about whether they are going to get paid or not,” Obama said.
He placed the blame for the stalemate on Boehner, saying there are enough votes to end the shutdown immediately if the speaker would call a vote of his members. Asked by reporters whether the two men had any plans to talk, Obama said nothing was planned. “I’m always happy to hear from him,” he added.
GOP leaders said Friday the House will be in session Saturday so that Republicans can continue passing bills that would reopen selected parts of the government.
The White House responded by issuing fresh veto threats, saying Congress should reopen the entire federal government, as Obama canceled a planned trip to Asia next week to stay engaged in the debate.
Obama’s somewhat chaotic foray outside the confines of the White House grounds for a carryout lunch was a first for the president, his aides said as they tried to maintain order among media following along. Shocked tourists and downtown workers on their lunch breaks gasped and occasionally shouted out words of support as he passed. “Hang tough, Mr. President,” one yelled.
The president made the lunch run without the help of furloughed junior aides, who normally shepherd the media who constantly accompany Obama whenever he’s in public. Other, more senior staff who have been deemed essential for White House functions during the shutdown tried to fill the role of “wranglers,” but at one point the president himself intervened to position journalists who were trailing behind with only a view of his back. He stopped and told reporters to get in front of him.
“Let’s go, wranglers!” the president teased his staff.
Taylor Gourmet, which had a visit from Obama last year at another location, is offering 10 percent off and a free cookie for furloughed government employees.
Obama took a macadamia nut cookie but insisted on paying for it.