President Obama sought Friday to refocus the news cycle on a trifecta of victories for him this week, after the bungled firing and attempted rehiring of Shirley Sherrod dominated the media and overshadowed his accomplishments.
“Taken together, we made enormous progress this week,” Obama said in a brief statement at the White House.
Obama pointed to his signing into law of a financial regulation bill, his signing of a bill to limit improper payments like benefits for dead people, and the long-sought passage of an extension of unemployment payments for jobless Americans.
Obama also called on Congress to pass a $30 billion measure intended to increase lending by community banks to small businesses, which has been added to a $12 billion measure that includes some tax breaks and government lending programs.
Obama’s remarks were notable in that he again avoided talking publicly about the Sherrod fiasco. All week, the president has steered clear of the topic, and White House press secretary Robert Gibbs has in fact been the only administration official to speak about the controversy, fielding a barrage of questions at daily press briefings.
The president’s response to the racially charged incident stands in stark contrast to Obama’s handling of the flap last summer over the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. at his home by Cambridge police. Obama said the police had “acted stupidly” at a press conference, then spent over a week clarifying and apologizing for the comment.
Ultimately, Obama extended the news coverage of his mistake by scheduling a “beer summit” between Gates and the arresting officer at the White House. Obama’s response to the Sherrod incident has been intended to try to starve the story of oxygen.
In the process, however, the White House has faced questions about why the nation’s first black president is not doing more to move the nation’s conversation on race forward.
“I don’t think the President was under any illusion … that his election alone would change long-held views,” Gibbs said. “And I think that we’ll be having discussions on race and have — and I’m sure there will continue to be differing opinions long after this president has left.”