A Slow, Painful Climb Down on White House Tours

"I actually just want to govern -- at least for a couple of years."

-- President Obama speaking to donors to his permanent campaign organization at Washington’s St. Regis Hotel.

How much will it cost for President Obama to fly to his hometown of Chicago on Friday to give a speech at a research lab about the need for increased federal spending on projects to fight climate change?

Certainly more than the estimated $74,000 in estimated savings from closing the White House to public tours. Ten times more? Perhaps, given the tremendous cost of presidential travel.

Pressed on the matter of the president spending money to go sell his agenda while the administration keeps tour groups out of the White House, Press Secretary Jay Carney defended the propriety of presidential travel.

But the point isn’t whether it is right for the president to hold these campaign-style events in a bid to rejuvenate his wilting second-term agenda but whether the events are more important than letting families see the White House on their visits to Washington.

Obama may not have to run for office again, but any answer that doesn’t put the presidential dreams of America’s schoolchildren before a speech on green-energy subsidies is liable to prompt a backlash.

Obama may not have to run again, but as his time nuzzling deep-pocked donors on Thursday shows, he understands just how important public sentiment is to a second-term president.

If Obama is willing to hang out with Google executives and other Democrat-allied heavy hitters in a bid to raise some $50 million to keep his campaign humming, he knows that in a way, public opinion is even more important now than it was before.

A first-term president benefits from the knowledge that he might be around for a second term. Members of Congress, especially of the president’s party, and other powerful figures tread more lightly in that knowledge.

But once re-elected, a president is only about as good as his job-approval numbers. His ability to credibly threaten or entice is about equal to his popularity. Obama can’t threaten Republicans with Midterm political ruin if voters are tuning him out. Neither can he entice Democrats into politically risky stances if they don’t think he’s a useful ally when voting time comes around.

Obama has an audacious second-term agenda predicted on getting money from Googlers and other donors in a bid to reach around the media and talk directly to his political base. The base, once fired up and made ready to go, will apply pressure on members of Congress to take up Obama’s agenda. The idea is to use the campaign apparatus to keep the lame ducks away. And certainly there are several million Americans who are ready to help the president out, at least to the point of retweeting.


But if the president loses his mojo in the middle, $50 million from Silicon Valley won’t buy enough community organizing to get lawmakers to take him too seriously.

Obama told ABC News this week that it wasn’t his decision to close the White House gates. He blamed the Secret Service in specific and Republicans in general for failing to agree to tax increases he wanted in exchange for stopping the automatic reductions to automatic increases of federal spending.

But surely the president could have said that under no circumstances would the tours be stopped. He could have told the Secret Service to find someplace else to save or have promised to hunker down at the White House until the budget crisis was over in order to save cash.

Unfortunately for the president, excluding regular folks from the White House has turned into the symbol of sequestration. Obama wanted Americans to think of shuttered firehouses and unemployed shipbuilders, but instead they think of schoolchildren locked out of the White House.

The scare tactics around the sequestration were intended to put Republicans on defense in negotiations over federal funding levels for the final six months of the federal fiscal year. Instead, the minority party is feeling empowered on the question of spending reductions.

And as long as the kids are being turned away from the White House, the president will find his own activities under a microscope. Every trip, every party, every event will be measured in worth against the sorrow of little Timmy and Sally who didn’t get to hear dad ask at the end of the tour if they’d like to live in the White House someday.

Since his sequestration slide began, Obama has been hustling to get a budget deal that could last him through Midterms. This is a first try for him, so we can’t know how effective he will be. Certainly he’s motivated to get out of the damaging cycle of government by crisis and cliff.

But if he can’t get something done, he’s going to have to get the “people’s house” re-opened to the people pronto. If he doesn’t, he may find that his audacious strategy to prevent lame duck status has actually accelerated his irrelevancy.

And Now, A Word From Charles

“Truth for the president is what you can use.  He has a new truth and he'll use it now.”

-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com. Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET  at  http:live.foxnews.com.