WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama is looking to get his groove back – at the beach.
A post-Hurricane Sandy tour of the New Jersey coast line on Tuesday, gives the president a chance for a three-point play that can move him ahead of the recent controversies that have dogged the White House. With New Jersey's Republican Gov. Chris Christie at Obama's side, effective government, bipartisanship and economic opportunity will be the unmistakable message in the face of the coastal recovery.
For Obama, the tour helps him continue redirecting the political conversation after two weeks of dealing with the fallout over the administration's response to terror attacks last September in Benghazi, Libya, the targeting of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service and the Justice Department's review of journalist phone records as part of a leak investigation.
The visit occurs as Congress is away for a Memorial Day holiday break, a weeklong recess that likely will silence the daily attention lawmakers, particularly Republicans, had been paying to the three political upheavals. It also comes just days after Obama started seeking to change the subject in Washington with a speech defending his controversial program of strikes by unmanned drones and renewing his push to close the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility.
On Sunday Obama traveled to Oklahoma to view damage from the recent tornado and console victims of the deadly storm.
For Christie, the president's appearance is yet another way to showcase his beloved Jersey Shore. The Republican has been touting it throughout the Memorial Day weekend as a destination point that is back in business and he broke a Guinness World record Friday by cutting a 5.5 mile ceremonial ribbon that symbolically tied together some of the hardest-hit towns by Sandy. The state has a $25 million marketing campaign to highlight the shore's resurgence in time for the summer season.
Both men will reprise the remarkable bipartisan tableau they offered during Sandy's immediate aftermath when Obama flew to New Jersey just days before the election to witness the storm's wreckage. Politically, the visit plays well for both men. Christie, seeking re-election this year, will stand shoulder to shoulder with a president popular among Democrats in a Democratic leaning state. And Obama, dueling with congressional Republicans on a number of fronts, gets to display common cause with a popular GOP stalwart. (Obama has not scheduled any face time with state Sen. Barbara Buono, Christie's likely Democratic opponent in the governor's race).
Christie, in an interview with NBC's Matt Lauer on Friday, downplayed the politics, even when asked if ties to Obama could hurt him among conservatives if he were to seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
"The fact of the matter is, he's the president of the United States, and he wants to come here and see the people of New Jersey," Christie said. "I'm the governor. I'll be here to welcome him."
To be sure, New Jersey is still rebuilding. Obama is visiting those regions that have been among the first to recover – Christie ranks the recovery of the state's famous boardwalks as an eight on a scale of 10 but concedes that in other parts of the state many homeowners are still rebuilding six months after the devastating superstorm struck. Overall, the storm caused $38 billion in damages in the state, and harmed or wrecked 360,000 homes or apartment units.
But the coastal recovery is a big potential boon for the state where tourism is a nearly $40 billion industry.
For Obama, coming off a week that had the IRS in the crosshairs of a scandal, the trip also offers an opportunity to demonstrate the work of another part of government that provides a foil for the IRS: the Federal Emergency Management Agency, whose response to disasters has been met with bipartisan praise.
Indeed, inside the White House, FEMA is perceived as an example of what's best about government. The agency, panned for its response under President Bush to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, has made a turnaround under administrator Craig Fugate and has been commended for its work in disasters from the Joplin, Mo., tornado in 2011 to Hurricane Sandy last year.
Obama's trip Tuesday also comes two days after he toured the tornado devastation outside Oklahoma City, Okla., where FEMA has been the face of the federal government as well.
Josh Earnest, the White House's deputy press secretary, says FEMA represents "competent, efficient government that meets the needs of the people."
"The renaissance of the agency embodies what the president ran on," he said.
Overall, the federal government has directed more than $14 billion so far in aid to help families, support state and local rebuilding efforts, and assist major transportation reconstruction and in community development grants to states affected by Sandy, the bulk of which has gone to New Jersey and New York.
Even as Obama meets businesses and homeowners who have benefited from recovery work, the White House says he also plans to talk about the importance of renewing economic opportunities for middle-class families still getting their lives back. It's a message that dovetails with Obama's attempts to keep the economy prominent by highlighting economic growth after the Great Recession while also making his case for additional initiatives to keep the economy from stumbling again.
Earlier on HuffPost:
President Barack Obama
In a hastily organized press briefing at the White House, Obama said Monday that his race with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is the furthest thing from his mind as the East Coast braces for what could be its worst storm in history. "I am not worried at this point about the impact on the election. I am worried about the impact on families. I am worried about the impact on our first responders," he said. "The election will take care of itself next week." ... He also sent out a campaign email on Monday urging supporters to heed advice from local authorities and extending an early thank you to first responders. “Michelle and I are keeping everyone in the affected areas in our thoughts and prayers. Be safe,” reads the email, signed by Obama. -- <em><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/29/hurricane-sandy-obama_n_2042403.html?1351610452">HuffPost's Jennifer Bendery and Lynne Peeples </a></em>
Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney took a moment in an overflow room ahead of a campaign rally Monday to express his concern for those in the path of Hurricane Sandy and encourage the people of Ohio to do what they could to help those out east. “I want to mention that our hearts and prayers are with all the people in the storm's path," he said in Avon Lake, Ohio. "Sandy is another devastating hurricane by all accounts, and a lot of people are going to be facing some real tough times as a result of Sandy's fury." He went on to encourage those who can afford it to make a donation to the Red Cross. "If there are other ways that you can help, please take advantage of them because there will be a lot of people that are going to be looking for help and the people in Ohio have big hearts, so we're expecting you to follow through and help out," he said. Romney concluded the rally by echoing his comments from the overflow room. "This looks like another time we all need to come together," he said. -- <em><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/29/mitt-romney-hurricane-sandy_n_2039620.html?1351610466">HuffPost's Elise Foley</a></em>
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) continued his praise of President Barack Obama's work responding to Hurricane Sandy, using a press briefing Monday evening to note that he appreciated the "leadership" Obama was showing in the emergency. Christie, a prominent surrogate for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, said that he and Obama had a private phone conversation on Monday to discuss how the federal government could help New Jersey. He said that Obama told Christie that he could call him directly over the next 48 hours if the state government had issues with federal response to the hurricane in New Jersey. “I appreciate that type of leadership," Christie said of Obama. The Republican governor said most of the call centered on Obama's concern for New Jersey and then he continued to heap praise on the president, saying Obama's work has been "proactive." Christie shortened a campaign trip for Romney to return to New Jersey to handle the storm response. Christie started his praise of Obama during press briefings on Sunday, when he said "appreciated" Obama's outreach to him and the governors of other states being impacted by Hurricane Sandy. During a press briefing on Monday afternoon, Christie described another call he had with Obama and said that the president and his aides have been working to benefit New Jersey. “We appreciate the president’s efforts in that regard," Christie said earlier Monday. "He and his staff worked tremendously hard.” -- <em><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/29/chris-christie-sandy-obama_n_2041673.html">HuffPost's John Celock</a></em>
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo
Newark Mayor Cory Booker
Former Vice President Al Gore
This week, our nation has anxiously watched as Hurricane Sandy lashed the East Coast and caused widespread damage--affecting millions. Now more than ever, our neighbors need our help. Please consider donating or volunteering for your local aid organizations. The images of Sandy’s flooding brought back memories of a similar--albeit smaller scale-- event in Nashville just two years ago. There, unprecedented rainfall caused widespread flooding, wreaking havoc and submerging sections of my hometown. For me, the Nashville flood was a milestone. For many, Hurricane Sandy may prove to be a similar event: a time when the climate crisis—which is often sequestered to the far reaches of our everyday awareness became a reality. While the storm that drenched Nashville was not a tropical cyclone like Hurricane Sandy, both storms were strengthened by the climate crisis. Scientists tell us that by continually dumping 90 million tons of global warming pollution into the atmosphere every single day, we are altering the environment in which all storms develop. As the oceans and atmosphere continue to warm, storms are becoming more energetic and powerful. Hurricane Sandy, and the Nashville flood, were reminders of just that. Other climate-related catastrophes around the world have carried the same message to hundreds of millions. Sandy was also affected by other symptoms of the climate crisis. As the hurricane approached the East Coast, it gathered strength from abnormally warm coastal waters. At the same time, Sandy's storm surge was worsened by a century of sea level rise. Scientists tell us that if we do not reduce our emissions, these problems will only grow worse. Hurricane Sandy is a disturbing sign of things to come. We must heed this warning and act quickly to solve the climate crisis. Dirty energy makes dirty weather.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)
"Our thoughts and prayers rest with the families, friends, and loved ones of all those who have lost their lives in the course of Hurricane Sandy, and our hearts go out to the millions of Americans waking up to destruction and devastation in their homes and communities today. "We are all grateful to the rescue workers and first responders working around-the-clock to save lives, restore power, and deal with the immediate aftermath of the storm. Federal, state, and local authorities have worked hand-in-hand to prepare for and respond to this natural disaster, and we will continue to do so as Americans begin to take stock of the damage, recover, and rebuild. "All Members of Congress stand ready to offer our aid and assistance to communities affected by Hurricane Sandy. As we have done in the past, the American people will stand united to confront the impact of this storm and start the work of recovery."
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.)
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.)
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.)
Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.)
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.)
Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.)
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.)
Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.)
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.)
Rep. Steve Austria (R-Ohio)
Former Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Va.)
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.)
“Hurricane Sandy hit New York and the Northeast hard last night and will complicate life in our region for the coming days. I am astounded at what I have seen in my own congressional district: flooding throughout Coney Island, Battery Park City, and other areas; widespread power outages; felled trees everywhere you look; and some very tragic fatalities. I am grateful to our local responders and laborers, who are doing a tremendous job on emergency response. And, through the President’s declaration of New York as a major disaster area, we will be able to immediately allocate FEMA funds to begin to repair the billions of dollars in damage locally and bring relief to New Yorkers whose lives have been turned upside down.”