Obama to visit Las Vegas next week

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama will visit recession-damaged Las Vegas next week, a little over two weeks after his awkward remark about the city fired up the mayor and even his Nevada allies in Congress.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the president will arrive in Southern Nevada on Thursday night after a stop in Denver, and will have several events on Friday alongside Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.

The long-awaited visit "will include discussions with citizens and business leaders about working together to address the economic challenges facing Nevada and the rest of America," Gibbs said.

The president plans to return to Washington on Friday afternoon, Gibbs said.

No details were immediately available as to where Obama will be appearing. A White House official said those would be announced soon.

Gibbs said he did not believe Obama would be taking part in any fundraising events while in Las Vegas.

Reid and Las Vegas civic leaders had invited Obama to Las Vegas to take part in the opening of the CityCenter complex in December, but the trip was pushed back until after the president delivered his State of the Union address earlier this month.

In the meantime, however, the backdrop for a presidential visit to Las Vegas got complicated after Obama committed a gaffe in the eyes of many local officials during a Feb. 3 speech in New Hampshire.

In his speech, Obama remarked that people saving for college "shouldn't blow a bunch of cash on Vegas."

It was the second time in a year Obama had singled out Las Vegas in remarks about fiscal imprudence.

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman topped the list of local officials who reacted with anger and frustration, and Reid sent a note to the president warning him to "lay off Las Vegas," a tourism-dependent city struggling through high joblessness and record foreclosures in the recession.

Goodman said Obama wouldn't be welcome in Las Vegas. In fact, he said, "I'll do everything I can to give him the boot."

A spokesman for Goodman said Friday that the mayor's office had been notified of Obama's visit but no invitations had been offered yet. The spokesman declined further comment about the president.

A handful of Ward 5 Chamber of Commerce members on Friday called for Goodman to step back from his criticisms of Obama, citing worries that the remarks could inflame racist sentiments against the president during his visit.

Some people might take the mayor's comments made in anger as encouragement to try to act against the president, said Karen Duncan, president of the business organization for Ward 5, which includes the city's historic African-American district.

"We need to quell that sentiment," Duncan said. "I know what can happen if things get out of hand.

"In my opinion, the best thing that could happen is for Barack Obama and Mayor Goodman to sit down and have a martini," she said.

In a letter to Goodman, Duncan wrote that the chamber has been receiving "malicious anti-black statements" that prompted their concerns.

Duncan and other chamber supporters tried to meet with Goodman on Friday, but the mayor wasn't in when they stopped by.

Goodman's spokesman had no comment on the Ward 5 chamber's request.

Among other elected officials, Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., has no trepidation about welcoming Obama to Las Vegas in the aftermath of the embarrassing episode, a spokesman said.

"Congresswoman Titus always welcomes a visit from President Obama," her spokesman Andrew Stoddard said. Titus "will use this opportunity to discuss with the President the challenges the people of Southern Nevada are facing, from painfully high unemployment to record foreclosures, and stress the need to take further action to create jobs in our community."

Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., who scolded Obama's New Hampshire remark in a House speech last week, believes the president's visit will highlight Nevada's need for jobs and economic assistance, and local officials will have his ear for the period he is in Las Vegas, an aide said.

"Nevadans recognize that it's an honor to have the president visit our State and the media buzz that accompanies his trip will also mean global news coverage for Las Vegas, which is always helpful for tourism," Berkley spokesman David Cherry said.

Review-Journal writer Alan Choate contributed to this report. Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760.