SEATTLE — Amid a swirl of foreign and border challenges, President Barack Obama is embarking on the one mission that has regularly proved a winner for him — raising money for his fellow Democrats.
Obama landed Tuesday in Seattle at the start of a three-day West Coast trip, where he’ll also visit San Francisco and Los Angeles and plans to attend at least five fundraising events, less than four months ahead of midterm elections that could change Washington D.C.’s balance of power.
After Air Force One touched down at Boeing Field around 3:15 p.m., he stopped for about 10 minutes to shake hands, take photos and hold a baby.
Washington politicians including Gov. Jay Inslee joined him in a SUV to drive in a motorcade to his first event. The governor’s office said he was asked to brief the president on the state’s massive wildfires.
The president’s first top is in a nearby Seattle neighborhood and then he’s set to cross Lake Washington for a fundraiser in Hunt’s Point.
Drivers have been warned to prepare for road closures around the region Tuesday afternoon and evening.
His visit coincides with construction on Interstate 90, where three of the westbound lanes are closed between Bellevue and Mercer Island.
The trip comes as Obama is dealing with a series of high-profile tests of his presidency, from Eastern Europe to the Middle East to the Southern U.S. border. The downing of a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine last week, the eruption of war in Gaza between Israelis and Palestinians, and the humanitarian crisis caused by the influx of Central American minors seeking to cross the border has put a strain on the White House.
But on the fundraising trail Obama remains a potent draw among the Democratic Party’s wealthy donors, who pay up to $32,400 to be in intimate settings with the president.
The fundraising highlight of the trip will be a Democratic National Committee event Wednesday at the Beverly Hills home of Shonda Rhimes, the producer of the ABC series “Scandal,” a drama set in modern-day Washington. Kerry Washington, who plays the lead role in the show, is among the hosts.
White House officials say Obama is more than able to carry out all his duties and attend to crises while on the road.
“When the president travels, he travels with an array of staff and advisers and communications equipment that allows him to do his job from wherever he happens to be,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday. “And if it becomes clear that there’s a need for him to come back to the White House in order to fulfill those functions, then we’ll make a change in his schedule. Right now, it’s not apparent that that’s the case.”
Obama did abandon one idea for the trip, however. The White House had been in touch with late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel about a presidential appearance on his show during the stop in Los Angeles.
“We elected not to do it this time, but hope we can arrange to do it in the near future,” Earnest said.
So far this 2013-14 election cycle, Obama has attended 73 fundraising events for Democratic Party groups. During the 2009-10 midterm cycle, when Republicans won control of the House, Obama attended 98 fundraisers, according to CBS News White House reporter Mark Knoller, who keeps detailed records of presidential travels and events.
Obama has devoted much of his effort to the Democratic National Committee, which last month raised $9 million and cut its debt to $3 million from a one-time high of $23 million. Obama also will raise money for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the political arm of the party that assists Democratic House incumbents and candidates.
While the House is expected to remain in Republican hands after the election, the fate of the Democratic-controlled Senate is much more in question, raising the stakes for fundraising.
Obama has at least one bit of policy-driven business set aside for the trip. In Los Angeles on Thursday he plans to go to a community college to draw attention to jobs training, particularly for work requiring specialized skills, like health care.