President Obama landed in Seattle Tuesday as part of a three-day West Coast trip to raise money for his fellow Democrats. Speaking at a fundraiser, the president offered federal help to deal the state's largest wildfire.
Air Force One touched down at Boeing Field around 3:15 p.m., greeted by Washington Governor Jay Inslee. Obama spent a few minutes chatting with King County Executive Dow Constantine before heading over to a small crowd of well wishers standing behind a rope line. The president shook hands, snapped photos with people and picked up an infant in a bright pink jacket before getting into a motorcade for his first fundraiser.
Gov. Inslee was able to join Obama in his motorcade to brief him on the wildfires burning in the state.
Obama's first stop was at Bruce and Ann Blume in Seattle's Madrona neighborhood. As Obama's motorcade arrived, a group of about 40 people stood on the lawn near the driveway protesting Israel's actions in Gaza, holding signs reading such as "Save Gaza" and chanting "stop the killing, stop the crime, free Palestine."
During the fundraiser, Obama addressed the wildfires burning in the state. He said he was briefed by Inslee on the drive there and was able to contact Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Craig Fugate to authorize an emergency declaration to ensure electrical power in the affected areas.
Obama has asked Congress for $615 million in emergency spending to fight Western wildfires. He said spending on such fires has increased over the years.
"A lot of it has to do with drought, a lot of it has to do with changing precipitation patterns and a lot of that has to do with climate change," said Obama.
Obama also touched on other topics, including the "picking up" economy, oil production and alternative energy. "There's a lot of reasons for optimism," he said, noting that also includes health insurance, but he added there is still unease, including "some big challenges overseas," including Ukraine, Syria, Iraq and Israel-Gaza.
After the first fundraiser ended around 5:30 p.m., Obama crossed Lake Washington for a second fundraiser at the home of former Costco CEO Jim Senegal at Hunt's Point. The cost to attend the invitation-only fundraiser is reportedly $25,000 per person.
Drivers should brace for road closures around the Puget Sound region Tuesday afternoon and evening as the president's motorcade travels between stops.
The exact route of the president's visit is a closely guarded secret, but the motorcade will likely further snarl traffic that is already a mess due to lane closures on Interstate 90. Westbound I-90 between Interstate 405 and Bellevue Way Southeast is down to one lane around-the-clock.
There is also a Seattle Mariners game at Safeco Field scheduled to start at 7:10 p.m.
Obama's last visit to Washington was in April, when he flew over the Oso mudslide and met with emergency responders and family members of slide victims.
President Obama will fly to San Francisco Tuesday night. On the three-day West Coast trip, Obama is scheduled to attend at least five fundraising events in Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles, less than four months ahead of midterm elections that could change Washington's balance of power.
Obama appealed to donors to help him change Congress.
"The problem is not the Republican Party per se," he said. "The problem is this particular group right now that has kind of gone off the rails."
The trip comes as Obama is dealing with a series of high-profile tests of his presidency, from Eastern Europe to the Middle East to the Southern U.S. border. The downing of a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine last week, the eruption of war in Gaza between Israelis and Palestinians, and the humanitarian crisis caused by the influx of Central American minors seeking to cross the border has put a strain on the White House.
Even on the road, the troubles abroad were not far from the president. While aboard Air Force One in route to Seattle he placed a call to Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte to discuss evidence that Russia continues to send weapons and fighters into Ukraine. The Malaysian airline flight originated in Amsterdam, and many of the deaths were Dutch citizens.
Also, as he pulled up to his first event in a wealthy neighborhood on Lake Washington, Obama was met by about two dozen demonstrators protesting Israel's actions in Gaza and chanting "free, free Palestine" and "killing children is a crime."
Obama said the foreign crises had contributed to the public's anxiety.
"Part of people's concern is just the sense that around the world the old order isn't holding and we're not quite yet where we need to be based on the new order," he said.
On the fundraising trail Obama remains a potent draw among the Democratic Party's wealthy donors, who pay up to $32,400 to be in intimate settings with the president.
Obama spoke to about 250 donors who paid up to $20,000 at the home of commercial real estate developer Bruce Blume and his wife, Anne. The proceeds went to the Democratic National Committee.
Later Obama was attending an event for the Senate majority PAC, a super committee that can raise unlimited amounts of money. The event was hosted by former Costco Wholesale Corp. CEO Jim Sinegal and his wife, Jan, and philanthropists Tom and Sonya Campion. PAC officials did not respond to requests for information about the event.
The fundraising highlight of the trip will be a Democratic National Committee event Wednesday at the Beverly Hills home of Shonda Rhimes, the producer of the ABC series "Scandal," a drama set in modern-day Washington. Kerry Washington, who plays the lead role in the show, is among the hosts.
In the capital, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell faulted Obama for not being in town while Congress debates vital legislation.
"I'm not going to give him advice about how to allocate his time, but he's certainly not spending the kind of time with the people he needs to pass legislation and convince people who have a vote, who were sent here to legislate, of the virtues of whatever position he has," McConnell said.
White House officials say Obama is more than able to carry out all his duties and attend to crises while on the road.
"In terms of fundraising, it's a responsibility that presidents in both parties for generations have been responsible for," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Tuesday. "And the president, like his predecessors, is interested in supporting members of his party who are on the ballot in 2014 and that's part of what he'll be doing over the course of this week."
Obama did abandon one idea for the trip, however. The White House had been in touch with late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel about a presidential appearance on his show during the stop in Los Angeles.
"We elected not to do it this time, but hope we can arrange to do it in the near future," Earnest said.