By JENNIFER EPSTEIN & GLENN THRUSH
Homecoming is such un-sweet sorrow for Barack Obama.
The president’s critics have carped that his nine-day Asian Pacific trip — which came in the middle of the supercommittee’s food fight — is ill-timed and off-point. But, from Obama’s perspective, he couldn’t distance himself far enough from the flaming political garbage dump that is Washington D.C., and the old political headaches returned anew when Air Force One went wheels-down at Andrews in Sunday’s wee hours.
Obama spent more than a week looking relaxed and presidential while he pitched a jobs agenda to some of the country’s most important trading partners — interrupted only by a demi-gaffe that’s become grist for Fox News. Now, as international flattery gives way to domestic sniping, he will seek to avoid getting sucked into another partisan battle over deficits and government spending.
His trip, punctuated by an Asian trade deal and a new U.S. security pledge to Australia, was, above all, a stab at reasserting Obama’s commitment to American exceptionalism at a time when he’s been forced to play small ball back home by hostile congressional Republicans.
“There are times where we question our influence around the world,” Obama said during an appearance in his hometown of Honolulu early in the trip — stoking GOP criticism even then by referring to his location as Asia. “But the news I have to deliver … is American leadership is still welcome.”
Good luck maintaining that lofty level of discourse over the next two weeks, if the supercommittee fails to reach an agreement and the Washington blame game kicks into high gear.
In fact, the GOP offered some barbed alohas to the president while he was still island hopping, blasting his comment that U.S. corporations had gotten “a little bit lazy” in seeking foreign investment.
Bill O’Reilly sided with Obama’s Democratic defenders, saying the remark was aimed at business leaders, not American workers.
But Ricky Perry pounced, as did columnist Charles Krauthammer, who told Fox: “No one is asking him to go out there and to be a jingoistic cheerleader. … But when you call your own country ‘lazy’ when you are abroad, and call it ‘unambitious and soft’ when you are home, I think what you are showing is not tough love, but ill-conceived, ill-concealed contempt.”
Mitt Romney suggested raising tariffs on China and ridiculed administration officials’ claims that they have pressured Beijing to end unfair trade practices and currency inflation. “Who can blame the Chinese for ignoring our complaints when the status quo has served them so well?” Romney asked in a POLITICO opinion piece.