On "Meet the Press" December 26, top White House adviser Valerie Jarrett said President Obama's "biggest regret" is that the severity of the economic crisis forced him to "spend almost every waking hour in Washington focusing very hard on solving that crisis" and thus kept him from traveling the country to connect with the American people. According to Jarrett, Obama recently told aides, "I really want to figure out a way where I can spend more time outside of Washington listening and learning and engaging the American people." Jarrett says that in 2011 the president's schedule will "reflect that priority" -- that is, include more time outside the nation's capital.
But it turns out Obama has already spent nearly half his presidency outside Washington. As of January 2, Obama has been president for 712 days. According to figures compiled by CBS News reporter Mark Knoller, who serves as a sort of unofficial White House record-keeper, Obama has spent 339 of those days -- nearly 48 percent -- outside Washington.
According to Knoller, Obama has spent 176 days on domestic trips, 70 days on foreign travel, 58 days on vacation, and 35 days at Camp David. (You can add a couple more vacation days to the total before the president returns from his break in Hawaii.) Nevertheless, Jarrett claimed that Obama has had to spend "almost every waking hour in Washington" since taking office. The truth is more like half of that.
And the president will likely spend more time away from the capital in the months ahead. Jarrett is no doubt right that Obama believes he needs to devote more time to "engaging" the American people. But Knoller's figures show that the people already see a lot of the president. Of Obama's 712 days in office, just 45 days have passed without a presidential public appearance or statement of some sort, according to Knoller.
But even as he has appeared on America's television screens nearly non-stop, Obama's job approval rating has steadily inched downward. According to the RealClearPolitics average of polls, Obama's approval rating stands at 45.4 percent, versus a 47.9 percent disapproval rating. (The president's approval rating in the RCP average was last at 50 percent in January 2010, last above 55 percent in July 2009, and last above 60 percent in June '09.) In addition, polls show that voters disapprove of Obama's handling of the economy, as well as other key issues, and also disapprove of his signature achievement, the national health care law. All the while, the American people have been seeing and hearing the president almost daily, sometimes two or more times a day.
So as he begins his re-election campaign, Obama can travel even more and engage the people more. But that won't change the fact that many voters simply don't like what he has done.