President Barack Obama will postpone for several days his trip to Indonesia and Australia, so he can help push health care reform legislation through the U.S. Congress. Plans for the president's family to accompany him on the trip have been scrapped.
President Obama will leave for the South Pacific region on Sunday, March 21, three days later than planned, and will return on Friday, March 26.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs Friday dismissed reporters' questions about further delaying or even canceling the trip, saying Indonesia and Australia are vital to U.S. interests. "For quite some time we have been absent from this important region of the world. We have important partnerships that lead to increasing our security, increasing our economic growth and increasing the likelihood that we deal with important problems, in having strong bilateral relationships with places like Indonesia and Australia," he said.
Gibbs also said Mr. Obama's stay in Indonesia will be an important part of his outreach to the world's Muslims. "We are going to visit, obviously, Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim population, an emerging democracy. The president will follow up on his speech from Cairo in a speech in Indonesia, a key partner, obviously, in our counterterrorism efforts," he said.
The president's spokesman also called Australia a very important trading partner and an important ally in U.S. efforts in Afghanistan.
Gibbs said the president's wife and two daughters will not go with him on the trip, as had originally been planned, because of conflicts with the girls' school schedules.
Meanwhile, Gibbs said the effort to pass health care reform legislation has gained momentum, and Mr. Obama will make a final push for it, calling and meeting with lawmakers. "I doubt we would be where we are on health care after this long if the president were not personally invested in, from the very beginning, getting this done," he said.
Republicans in Congress are solidly against the president's health proposal, and the administration is working to enlist the support of Democrats.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, says she is positive that Mr. Obama's decision to stay in Washington will help get the legislation passed quickly. "I am delighted that the president is going to be here for the passage of the bill. It is going to be historic," she said.
Key Democrats announced Friday that they will include reforms to college lending in the health care package. Republicans immediately denounced the idea.