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A little ice? That's nothing, Obama says

After his daughters' school cancels classes following a storm, the president says the capital could use a little 'Chicago toughness.'

January 29, 2009|Mark Silva

WASHINGTON — President Obama and his two young daughters have a message for Washington, based on years of Chicago winters: Toughen up.

A dusting of snow -- followed by melting temperatures, rain, sleet and then overnight freezing -- packed much of the Washington area in ice Wednesday morning. Schools throughout the region shut down -- including Sidwell Friends, where Sasha and Malia Obama are enrolled.

"Can I make a comment that is unrelated to the economy, very quickly?" Obama asked at the White House on Wednesday. "My children's school was canceled today because of what, some ice?"

As reporters and business leaders laughed, Obama added: "As my children pointed out, in Chicago, school is never canceled. In fact, my 7-year-old [Sasha] pointed out that you'd go outside for recess in weather like this. . . . You wouldn't even stay indoors. So it's -- I don't know. We're going to have to try to apply some flinty Chicago toughness to this town."

A spokeswoman for the Chicago Public Schools said snow, ice or cold has not shut down the system since Jan. 4-5, 1999, when a storm dumped nearly 2 feet of snow on the city. The University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, which the Obama girls attended, has closed only once in the last 30 years because of winter weather, said David Derbes, a longtime faculty member.

Malia, 10, is a fifth-grader at the Sidwell campus in northwest Washington. Sasha is a second-grader at the elementary school in Bethesda, Md.

Are Washingtonians weak, their father was asked?

"I'm saying," the president replied carefully, "when it comes to the weather, folks in Washington don't seem to be able to handle things."


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