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President 'likely' going to Copenhagen

Advance team on the way
September 19, 2009 9:45:23 PM PDT
President Barack Obama apparently has changed his mind. An administration source tells ABC7 the president will "likely" accompany first lady Michelle Obama to Copenhagen to make a final push for Chicago to win the right to host the 2016 Summer Games. The source underscored that the decision is not final and may be dependent on the status of health care reform bills in Congress. Nonetheless, it marks a dramatic departure from statements made by Mr. Obama and his advisors on Wednesday in which they downplayed the possibility of a personal presidential sales call on the International Olympic Committee.

It just so happens that President and Mrs. Obama had dinnner Saturday night at the Washington home of his Olympic point-person, Valerie Jarrett. Only they know whether the prospect of a presidential trip was on the conversation menu.

ABC7 Chicago is told that, within the last 24 hours, Mr. Obama has decided that if he can make it to Copenhagen, he will. In fact, a senior administration official tells ABC News that a White House advance team has been dispatched to Copenhagen to prepare for the possibility that President Obama will personally make the pitch to the IOC.

"Chicago is ready. America is ready. We want these Games!" President Obama said three days ago as he and Mrs. Obama held a pep-rally at the White House to support Chicago's Olympic bid.

That's where Mr. Obama expressed his regrets that the health care reform battle would likely prevent him from travelling to the IOC meeting and vote in Copenhagen. Mrs. Obama would be his personal emissary.

But when asked if the president was completely closing the door on going to Copenhagen, the president's Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett told ABC7 Chicago:

"It's not on his schedule as of today."

Aides to Chicago's Mayor Daley says he has not received any official word from the White House. The mayor and Chicago 2016 have sought to downplay speculation about a surprise presidential trip.

"The president will make the determination himself whether he goes or not. He's sending a great representative with Michelle Obama. We're very happy with that," said Daley.

Daley did sound more optimistic that Chicago would win the Olympic host city competition.

"I'm very confident that we're going to get this because we've got the best proposal," he said.

Chicago 2016 also declined to speculate on the president's schedule and continued to praise Michelle Obama's participation in the final pitch to IOC members instead.

"We are extremely excited about the first lady's commitment to come to Copenhagen and lead our delegation," Patrick Sandusky said in a statement. "Her presence in Copenhagen will be an incredible asset to our bid. While the President has not been able to commit to coming to Copenhagen, his support has always been strong and the first lady's presence in Copenhagen demonstrates his belief in our bid."

Last week, an IOC member from Canada told ABC7 Chicago that a personal presidential pitch might be key for Chicago.

"It's his city and his country. It's a close race. The other candidates are not chopped liver. It's not a forgone conclusion by any means that Chicago can win. So, I think if you're the president, this may be one of the times that you have to answer the call of duty," said Dick Pound, IOC Member - Canada.

ABC7's source emphasizes that no final decision has been made. It now appears as though there are no crucial votes on health care reform scheduled for September 30, October 1 or October 2. So, that is one reason the president may now feel like he can break away.

The president and first lady are expected to again talk-up Chicago's bid this coming week, first at a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in New York and then at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh.

There's also a lot of behind the scenes work being done. ABC7 Chicago is told the president has written letters to or phoned several IOC members who hold swing votes. Those efforts will continue in the final two weeks of the campaign.

Rio de Janeiro, Madrid and Tokyo are competing with Chicago. The 2016 host city decision will be made October 2.


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