Obama cancels Asia trip for health-care vote
U.S. President Barack Obama has postponed his trip to Asia until June so he can stay in Washington for a possible Sunday vote on his health-care overhaul.
Obama is disappointed and regrets having to delay his visits to Indonesia and Australia, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Thursday, but has told the leaders of those nations that health care is a crucial priority.
"The president believes right now, the place for him to be is in Washington seeing this through," Gibbs said.
Obama had already delayed the trip to Indonesia and Australia, pushing back a Thursday departure until Sunday so he could help Democrats in Congress rally last-minute votes for the plan.
White House staff had tried to find a way to push the trip back another few days, but by Thursday morning, it was clear the only way the president could still travel to Australia and Indonesia was if he left early Sunday afternoon. With the House likely to hold a vote on the health-care bill sometime Sunday, Gibbs said, "very little padding remained."
House Democrats believe they are on track to vote Sunday on a $940-billion US health-care bill that will expand coverage to millions. If the bill passes, the Senate will begin considering changes to the bill next week.
Democratic lawmakers welcomed the president's decision to stay in town.
"He may have to twist some arms," said Senate finance committee chairman Max Baucus, a Democrat. "He may have to talk to some people. His personal presence helps."
Speaker Nancy Pelosi said: "He wants to be here for the history."
The trip to Indonesia was to be a homecoming of sorts for the president, who spent four years in the world's largest Muslim country as a boy when his mother married an Indonesian man. A statue of Obama as a 10-year-old boy has been erected at the elementary school he attended.
Obama also had been scheduled to deliver his first address to the Muslim world since his historic speech in Cairo last year, and had been scheduled to meet with Indonesian President Susilio Bambang Yudhuyono.
Obama was also to address Australia's parliament and meet with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, with whom he shares a close relationship on the issues of climate change and the war in Afghanistan.