ThinkProgress, based on an interview on last night's Countdown, says that John Howard may have been asked to stay at Blair House after Obama had already been snubbed. The story is extremely speculative as the source is a Bloomberg reporter, rather than someone within Blair House, but raises some interesting points about the oddities of the case.
Last night on MSNBC's "Countdown," Bloomberg journalist Margaret Carlson revealed that when the White House turned down Obama's request in early December, it had not yet even invited Howard to stay at the Blair House:
I reported...on December 11 and 12 that there were no foreign dignitaries booked into Blair House during that period of time. ... I have the feeling they asked him [Howard] to come and stay so that there might be some plausible reason for not letting the Obamas stay there.
Back in December, when the Obamas asked if they could move into Blair House in early January so their daughters could start school in Washington DC, they were told by the Bush administration that the house was, regrettably, already booked. What wasn't revealed at the time was the identity of the house guest that was forcing the Obamas on to the waitlist.
The Washington Post is now reporting that the mystery has been solved:
The only overnight visitor at the presidential guest manse is none other than John Howard, a former Australian prime minister and leading member of President Bush's coalition of the willing in Iraq.
Howard and his entourage will be bunking at Blair House on Jan. 12, the night before he, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe are to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Bush, said Sally McDonough, a spokeswoman for first lady Laura Bush. The three current and former heads of state are longtime political allies of Bush, and Blair and Howard were key partners in the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
Was this a case of Bush playing favorites by putting a trusted partner from the coalition of the willing ahead of the incoming Democratic president? The New York Times reports that it's unlikely:
It is not clear how long Mr. Howard is staying there but it seems unlikely that he -- or the White House -- had any idea that he might bump the president-elect. The White House announced just yesterday that it had selected Mr. Howard and the others to receive the award, but such ceremonies are planned long before they are announced.
"Like many White House and Blair House events, planning occurs months in advance," Ms. McDonough said. The medal ceremony is to take place in the White House.