Aboard Air Force One: President Barack Obama is “disappointed” Chicago missed getting the 20016 Olympic Games but doesn’t regret putting so much on the line to argue for it, his chief spokesman said on Friday.
Talking to reporters aboard Air Force One as Obama and his wife Michelle flew back to Washington, Robert Gibbs said Obama “feels obviously proud of his wife for the presentation that she made.” Mrs. Obama had gone to Copenhagen ahead of her husband and had lobbied hard for the Summer Games to be brought to her hometown and his adopted hometown.
“Absolutely,” Gibbs replied, when asked whether Obama was glad he’d made such a large commitment to lobbying for the Games. He said the president “would never shy away from traveling anywhere, talking to anyone about this country.”
Gibbs said that Obama got the news while watching TV alone in his quarters on the presidential jet.
Chicago’s early exit from finalist balloting represented a personal setback for Obama and a painful defeat Chicago, America’s most prominent Midwestern city.
Many people had assumed Chicago would be a finalist. But International Olympic Committee members eliminated it only hours after Obama and his wife urged them to send the Summer Games there. Obama had put his personal prestige on the line and his political capital at risk when he decided late in the competition to go to Copenhagen and make a personal appeal.
Rio de Janeiro won the intense competition for the Games.
Chicago had seemed to pick up momentum in the last few days, with many IOC members seemingly charmed by Mrs. Obama, who came to Copenhagen ahead of her husband. But when IOC president Jacques Rogge announced the first vote’s results, while the Obamas were flying home on Air Force One, Chicago was out.
In making his pitch, the president had said that a nation shaped by the people of the world “wants a chance to inspire it once more.” Never before had a U.S. president made such an in-person appeal, and Obama’s critics will doubtlessly see the vote as a sign of his political shortcomings.
“I urge you to choose Chicago,” Obama told members of the International Olympic Committee, many of whom he later mingled with as some snapped photos of him on their cell phones.
“And if you do — if we walk this path together — then I promise you this: The city of Chicago and the United States of America will make the world proud,” the president said.
The president’s whirlwind trip put him in the Danish capital for less than five hours Friday, with Chicago-backers hoping that would be sufficient to give Obama’s adopted home town the advantage it needed to win the close, four-way race to become the host city of the 2016 Summer Games.
But the compressed time frame did not shield Obama from Republican criticism that he shouldn’t be hopscotching to Europe in Air Force One when there were so many pressing issues to deal with at home.
Asked by a reporter how he thought his pitch went, Obama gave a thumbs up — and he said the video montage of Chicago during the U.S. presentation made him miss home.
“Obviously now it’s up to the IOC members, but we are just grateful for the incredible hospitality,” Obama said.
He joked that only one part upset him: “They arranged for me to follow Michelle — that’s always bad.”
Both Obamas spoke on deeply personal terms about Chicago, the city at the center of the world’s spotlight so many times, including in November when the former Illinois senator won the White House. The president described Chicago as a city of diversity and warmth, a place where he finally found a home.
“It’s a city that works, from its first World’s Fair more than a century ago to the World Cup we hosted in the nineties,” Obama said. “We know how to put on big events.”
For all the anticipation surrounding Obama’s appearance in Copenhagen, his arrival at the IOC meeting was decidedly subdued.
The 100-plus committee members, who had already been warned not show bias during the presentations, sat silently as the Obamas walked into the Bella Center with the rest of 12-member Chicago delegation.
Mrs. Obama gave a passionate account of what the games would mean to her father, who taught her as a girl how to throw punches better than the boys. She spoke fondly of growing up on the South Side of Chicago, sitting on her father’s lap and cheering on Olympic athletes.
She noted that her late father had multiple sclerosis, so she knows something about athletes who compete against tough odds.
“Chicago’s vision for the Olympic and Paralympic movement is about so much more than what we can offer the games,” she said. “It’s about what the games can offer all of us — it’s about inspiring this generation and building a lasting legacy for the next.”
The president anchored the US charm offensive.
He referenced his own election as a moment when people from around the world gathered in Chicago to see the results last November and celebrate that “our diversity could be a source of strength.”
“There is nothing I would like more than to step just a few blocks from my family’s home and with Michelle and our two girls welcome the world back to our neighborhood,” Obama said. “At the beginning of this new century, the nation that has been shaped by people from around the world wants a chance to inspire it once more.”