- (Photo: Official White House Photo / Pete Souza)
President Barack Obama will still be flying off to Asia for a week of business meetings despite the first U.S. government shutdown in 17 years, which hit the nation on Tuesday morning.
"We plan to make this trip," said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney in a daily briefing on Monday, a day before the shut down.
"The President, as President, looks forward to and believes it is important to travel to Asia in order to promote our economic interests in Asia and our strategic interests in Asia. There are American jobs that can be created through our engagement with Asia, the fastest-growing region of the world and an enormously important region when it comes to our trading relationships and partnerships."
All non-essential government employees had to leave work until further notice on Tuesday after the Republican-led House of Representatives and the Democratic-led Senate failed to find common ground on allocating government funding, including funding to the controversial Obamacare. While essential services such as active duty military will remain at work, national parks and museums will be closed.
Carney revealed during the same press conference that the White House is also going to be losing a number of workers and operating only with essential staff.
"There will be reductions in staff. We'll have a skeletal staff," he explained. "There's obviously essential staff that's exempted – or excepted, which I think is the proper term. And that's true in other areas. But it will be an extremely lean operation if this comes to pass."
Some analysts had wondered whether the government shutdown will harm U.S. foreign policy goals, and possibly even force Obama to cancel the Asia trip altogether.
Leon Panetta, a former Democratic congressman and Secretary of Defense, suggested that such a decision could risk "sending a signal of a diminished U.S. commitment to its global role" that could be welcomed by nations or groups hostile to America.
Panetta said that congressional Republicans "may think this is a political game, but it's a political game that's doing damage to national security. The biggest threat to our national security right now is our failure to govern," he added, because other nations "will view that as a weakness."
For now at least, even with no resolution to the stalemate in Congress on the horizon, Obama is set to travel to Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines from Oct. 6-12 with a mission to increase America's political, economic and security engagement with the Pacific.
The president will be attending the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Economic Leaders meeting, a leading forum for trade and investment integration, and will host a meeting of leaders of the Trans-Pacific Partnership countries. Obama is also set to meet with a number of world leaders, including Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, where the two presidents will reaffirm bilateral ties.
Carney admitted that the White House will have to see how the week unfolds, but for now there is no reason to believe the trip will be cancelled.
A more detailed program of Obama's upcoming trip is available on the White House website.