WASHINGTON — After two weeks of sunshine and 10 rounds of golf, President Barack Obama is preparing for the busy fall awaiting him.
The glow from his vacation on the Massachusetts island of Martha’s Vineyard may fade sooner than expected, though. Obama gets back on the road Tuesday to comfort residents of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a city hard-hit in recent weeks by natural and man-made tragedies.
Heavy flooding this month killed at least 13 people and displaced thousands more after murky water engulfed their homes.
In July, the fatal police shooting of a black man outside of a convenience store sparked protests and mass arrests. Police say the death of 37-year-old Alton Sterling apparently led a gunman to train his weapon on law enforcement officers, killing three.
Obama was criticized for not visiting Baton Rouge after Sterling’s death or the killings of two Baton Rouge police officers and a sheriff’s deputy. He went instead to Dallas to eulogize five police officers who were killed by a gunman who similarly targeted law enforcement.
But the flooding is drawing Obama in, although the visit will come later than some would have liked. Some Louisianans and others, including The Advocate newspaper in Baton Rouge, called on Obama to break from vacation to console flood victims.
Gov. John Bel Edwards has defended Obama’s decision to not visit before this week, saying an earlier trip by the president would have interfered with the response effort.
While Obama resisted the public pressure, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump filled the void. He visited the flood-ravaged area Friday with his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, and briefly helped unload a supply truck.
With Congress still on a seven-week break, Obama and aides will likely spend time this week trying to figure out what they want from lawmakers before they shift focus on campaigning for re-election.
Congress returns after Labor Day, and the House and Senate will have just a month to pass a catch-all spending bill by the end of the federal budget year on Sept. 30 to keep the government operating. Lawmakers plan to leave Washington in October and return after the Nov. 8 elections.
The White House will continue to press for money to help keep the mosquito-borne Zika virus from spreading and develop a vaccine. The issue took on a new sense of urgency after Florida last week identified the popular Miami tourist haven of South Beach as the second site of Zika transmission on the U.S. mainland. A section of Miami’s Wynwood arts district was the first.
In turn, incensed lawmakers have promised to keep the heat on the administration by holding hearings on the $400 million it delivered to Iran in January. Republicans say the money was ransom to win freedom for four Americans held in Iran. Obama denied that, saying earlier this month that “we do not pay ransom. We didn’t here. And we … won’t in the future.”
But administration officials also said it made little sense not to “retain maximum leverage,” as State Department spokesman John Kirby put it last week, for the money long owed to Iran, to ensure the U.S. citizens’ release.
Iran had paid $400 million in the 1970s for U.S. military equipment. Delivery was scrapped after the Iranian government was overthrown.
The explanations have not satisfied critics in and out of Congress. Trump has begun telling supporters at his campaign rallies that Obama “openly and blatantly” lied about the prisoners. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Obama has set a “dangerous precedent” and owes the public a “full accounting of his actions.”
After visiting Louisiana, the president heads to Nevada on Aug. 31 to discuss environmental protection at the Lake Tahoe Summit. He follows with a trip to China and Laos from Sept. 2-9.
He’s also expected to campaign aggressively in October to help elect Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.