Obama cancels stops on Asia trip due to shutdown

Posted by Lesley Clark on October 2, 2013 

President Obama has scrapped two stops on an upcoming trip to Asia to return to Washington because of the government shutdown.

The White House says Obama called Malaysia's Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and the Philippine president late Tuesday night to deliver the news.

The White House says the prime minister "expressed his understanding and said that he looked forward to welcoming the president to Malaysia in the near future."

Obama is the second president to cancel a planned trip to Kuala Lumpur at the last moment: Bill Clinton did so in 1998, because of a crisis with Iraq. He sent vice president Al Gore instead to an economic summit there.

The White House says Obama committed to travel to the Philippines later in his term and told that Secretary of State John Kerry would travel in his place.

The White House hasn't yet cancelled the rest of the trip -- with Obama scheduled to leave Washington Saturday night for Bali, Indonesia, where he'll attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Economic Leaders Meeting.

He's also traveling to Brunei for the U.S. Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit and the East Asia Summit.

The Malaysian Insider reports that Najib was sympathetic to Obama's plight, which it said comes as the shutdown has led to "close to a million Americans waking up today with no job to go to."

It quotes Najib saying that while Obama's cancellation was "unforeseen and unexpected, I empathize with him, as I would do the same if I was in a similar situation."

He added, "Obama would be severely criticised if he were to go on with his Asian tour intead of remaining in the United States to resolve the crisis."

A spokeswoman for the National Security Council said "logistically" it was impossible to make the stops because of the government shut-down.

"Because they are on the back end of the President’s upcoming trip, our personnel was not yet in place and we were not able to go forward with planning," said spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden. 

She blamed House Republicans for "forcing a shutdown of the government," adding, "This completely avoidable shutdown is setting back our ability to promote U.S. exports and advance U.S. leadership in the largest emerging region in the world. A faction of House Republicans are doing whatever they can to deny America from carrying out our exceptional role in the world."

Hayden said the White House would evaluate the rest of Obama's trip based on how events develop.

"For the sake of our national security and economic prosperity, we urge Congress to reopen the government," she said.

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