Obama grabs spotlight with lunchtime walk in midst of shutdown

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama used a surprise walk out of the White House Friday to get a sandwich and the spotlight in the government shutdown as it dragged on with no negotiations scheduled with House Speaker John Boehner.

Obama strolled unannounced out of the White House gate, making his way along with Vice President Joe Biden a block up Pennsylvania Avenue to a Taylor Gourmet deli that was offering a discount to furloughed federal employees going without a paycheck. “As long as they’re off the job, nobody’s winning,” Obama said as he walked up to place his order.

He was responding to a reporters’ question about a quote in the Wall Street Journal from an anonymous senior administration official who reportedly said the White House was “winning” in the clash over the shutdown, and that the length of the shutdown “doesn’t really matter to us.” Obama bristled at the suggestion.

“There’s no winning when families don’t have certainty about whether they are going to get paid or not,” Obama said.

He placed the blame for the stalemate on Boehner, saying there are enough votes to end the shutdown immediately if the speaker would call a vote of his members. Asked by reporters whether the two men had any plans to talk, Obama said nothing was planned. “I’m always happy to hear from him,” he added.

GOP leaders said Friday the House will be in session Saturday so that Republicans can continue passing bills that would reopen selected parts of the federal government. The White House responded by issuing fresh veto threats, saying Congress should reopen the entire federal government, as Obama cancelled a planned trip to Asia next week to stay engaged in the debate.

Obama’s somewhat chaotic foray outside the confines of the White House grounds for carryout lunch was a first for the president, his aides said as they tried to maintain order among media following along. Shocked tourists and downtown workers on their lunch break gasped and occasionally shouted out words of support as he passed. “Hang tough, Mr. President,” one yelled out.

The walk came a day after a woman tried to ram her car through the White House’s outer security perimeter, then led police on a chase down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the Capitol, where she was shot and killed by police. A federal law enforcement official told The Associated Press the driver had the delusional belief the president was communicating with her.

The harrowing car chase heightened tensions in the capital city already edgy from the effects of the shutdown and a mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard nearly three weeks ago. Obama walked out of the White House on the far opposite side from where the driver tried to enter, with Secret Service agents following on all sides and putting up yellow tape to hold back onlookers.

The president made the lunch run without the help of furloughed junior aides, who normally shepherd the media who constantly accompany Obama whenever he’s in public. Other more senior staff who have been deemed essential for White House functions during the shutdown tried to fill the role of “wranglers,” but at one point the president himself intervened to position journalists who were trailing behind with only a view of his back. He stopped and told reporters to get in front of him.

“Let’s go, wranglers!” the president teased his staff.

Taylor Gourmet, which had a visit from Obama last year at another location, is offering 10 percent off and a free cookie for furloughed government employees. Obama took a macadamia nut cookie but insisted on paying for it since he said he’s not out of work. He ordered a turkey and provolone, choosing wheat bread over white. “That way I can tell Michelle I was healthy,” Obama told the cashier as he popped more cookie in his mouth.

Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, tweeted a hopeful message: “Common ground: John Boehner really likes Taylor Gourmet.”

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Follow Nedra Pickler on Twitter at https://twitter.com/nedrapickler

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