WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden took an unusual stroll to a sandwich shop down the street from the White House on Friday, a photo opportunity designed to show their solidarity for workers laid off due to a government shutdown.
Obama also seized the opportunity to respond to an embarrassing quote from an unnamed White House official that Republicans have used to their advantage in the battle over who is to blame for hundreds of thousands of people going without pay checks.
Obama has called the budget impasse a “Republican shutdown” and has sought to pin the blame for it firmly on House Speaker John Boehner.
But on Friday, the Wall Street Journal quoted an unnamed Obama administration official as saying, “We are winning ... It doesn’t really matter to us” how long the shutdown lasts “because what matters is the end result.”
Before buying the vice-president a salami sandwich from Taylor Gourmet, packed with a lunch-time crowd of surprised tourists and office workers, Obama responded to a shouted question from a reporter about the “winning” quote.
“There’s no winning when families don’t have certainty over whether they’re going to get paid or not,” Obama said.
“As long as they’re off the job, nobody’s winning,” Obama said.
It was Obama’s fifth public appearance this week to press his point that Republicans should sign off on a Senate-passed stop-gap funding bill to restart the government.
On Monday he spoke about the looming shutdown to reporters in the Oval Office and later in the White House briefing room.
The next day when the government closed down, he gave a speech in the Rose Garden. On Thursday, he traveled just outside the Beltway to a cement plant to give a fiery campaign-style speech mocking an Indiana Republican lawmaker for saying of the budget impasse “we have to get something out of this.”
The lawmaker, Marlin Stutzman, told the Washington Examiner that “We’re not going to be disrespected ... We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”
Stutzman later sought to clarify his remarks, saying he “carelessly misrepresented the ongoing budget debate.”
On Friday, it was Obama’s turn to explain the damaging “winning” quote, shortly after Boehner held a press conference to complain that Obama will not negotiate.
“This isn’t some damn game!” Boehner said.
Hundreds of delighted tourists and unfurloughed government workers showed nothing but delight that they had run into Obama and Biden (and their security entourage) walking down the street.
“Stay strong, Mr. President!” one man yelled. “Hang tough!” yelled another.
The restaurant was one of many American establishments offering so-called “furlough freebies” to government workers - in this case, 10 percent off sandwiches.
“That’s an indication of how ordinary Americans look after each other,” Obama said, saying the shutdown would end if Boehner allows a vote on the Senate funding bill - a vote that Democrats argue would pass.
“Reopen the government,” Obama said. “Take your cues from folks like these.”
Reporting by Roberta Rampton; editing by Jackie Frank