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Obama, on both coasts, delivers many messages in one day

President Obama visits Maryland and California, rallying Democrats worried about reelection, discussing drought strategies, meeting with Jordan's king and suggesting a new approach to Syria.

February 14, 2014|By Christi Parsons
  • President Obama addresses House Democrats during a Friday morning event in Cambridge, Md. He later flew to California's Central Valley and a desert retreat in Rancho Mirage.
President Obama addresses House Democrats during a Friday morning event… (Jacquelyn Martin / Associated…)

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. — President Obama flew across the country seeking to soothe the jangled nerves of allies Friday, meeting in the morning with House Democrats worried about reelection and at day's end with a key Middle Eastern leader who sits precariously close to regional conflicts.

The day's tour took the president from the eastern shore of Maryland to the drought-stricken Central Valley to a desert compound in Rancho Mirage — an aberrant schedule for a White House usually regimented in its commitment to generating just one message a day.

In his evening meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah II at the Sunnylands retreat, Obama spoke about the civil war in Syria, the resurgent violence of Al Qaeda and a proposed framework for Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

Obama acknowledged late Friday that he was thinking about possible changes to the U.S. strategy in Syria. Speaking to reporters as he and Abdullah headed into their talk, Obama said there were "intermediate steps" that might be useful in "applying more pressure" to the government of President Bashar Assad.

"We don't expect to solve this any time in the short term," Obama said of the Syria crisis, even as he raised the idea of bringing interim measures to bear.

Obama also told Abdullah of his intent to provide Jordan $1 billion in loan guarantees and to renew a deal that guarantees the country a minimum level of annual U.S. funding through 2019.

Economic assistance has been high on Abdullah's priority list as Jordan strains to cope with the flood of Syrian refugees who cross the border into the kingdom each day.

Congress authorized a loan guarantee of more than $1 billion last year, but the renewed aid and the annual funding will require lawmakers' further approval.

In between the Democrats and the king, Obama met with farmers in Fresno to discuss California's severe drought.

The fact that Obama delivered three different messages during the course of the day was a sign that the White House is coming to accept a reality of the second term: A clock is ticking on the president's ability to influence events, and he has to grab opportunities where they present themselves.

On Friday morning, that meant making a pitch for unity among House Democrats as they plan their agendas for this election year. At the Maryland retreat, Obama praised the Democratic caucus for its "courage, unity and discipline" and the progress he said had resulted.

In a closed-door session, he promised to help any candidates who needed him during the coming campaign season but notably did not repeat his predictions that the Democrats would regain control of the House this year, according to participants.

He also sought to tamp down pressure from his party for executive actions to limit deportations, telling lawmakers that his power to do more in that area was limited.

People need to understand that there are "outer limits to what we can do by executive action," Obama told the lawmakers, according to aides who attended the closed-door meeting.

Earlier, Democrats met with Vice President Joe Biden, who indicated that the administration realized Congress would not vote this year on proposals to give the president so-called fast-track authority for negotiating trade treaties.

The trade proposal has been a divisive issue for Democrats, and party leaders would prefer to postpone it until after this fall's election.

As the election season heats up, it's unclear which Democrats will want to link themselves closely to the president. At least one member urged Obama to try to do a better job of promoting his healthcare reform law with more stories of success, according to Democrats who were present.

By late afternoon, Obama had made it to Fresno, where he announced a range of executive actions meant to expedite the delivery of drought assistance to suffering farmers.

The actions could make more than $100 million available to Californians suffering through the crisis. All told, the actions are "a good first step," said Rep. Jim Costa (D-Fresno), who traveled to his hometown with Obama.

Obama also announced a much larger, $1-billion "climate resilience fund" that would pay for new technologies and infrastructure to help communities cope with the effects of climate change and research on the impact of global warming.

But Obama can only lay out this idea in the budget he proposes next month, when it becomes subject to the will of Congress. Some Republicans quickly expressed skepticism about the idea.

"It's hard to believe the president is going to ask for a new climate fund when he's already prioritized a substantial portion of the normal government budget around climate change initiatives," said Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), a leading skeptic regarding climate science.

"If the president couldn't get cap-and-trade through, then there is no chance Congress is going to approve $1billion for climate change projects. He knows this."

christi.parsons@latimes.com

Lisa Mascaro and Michael A. Memoli in the Washington bureau contributed to this report.

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