WASHINGTON -- As Michelle Obama prepares to make a highly
personal appeal in Denmark on behalf of Chicago's bid to host the
2016 Summer Olympics, the White House is leaving open the
possibility that President Barack Obama will make a last minute
decision to join her.
Though the president has said the health care debate keeps him
from committing to attend the International Olympic Committee's
Oct. 2 meeting in Copenhagen, an administration official said an
advance team traveled there Monday to make preparations should the
president's schedule open up.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because a decision
on the president's travel plans has not been made.
An advance team always travels ahead of the president to assess
security and make arrangements for accommodations, even for trips
the president doesn't end up taking.
Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to the president, said a trip
to Copenhagen is not currently on the president's schedule. Chicago
backers have urged the president to attend the meeting, but Jarrett
said the bid committee is thrilled to have the first lady -- a
Chicago native with sky-high popularity around the world -- lead the
city's 300-member delegation.
"Who better than Michelle Obama to represent our country right
now?" Jarrett asked.
Jarrett, a former vice chair of the Chicago 2016 bid committee
and head of the White House Office on Olympic, Paralympic and Youth
Sport, also will travel to Copenhagen. She met with the first lady
and her staff last week to develop a strategy for the home stretch.
Jarrett said Mrs. Obama's presentation to the IOC will be "very
personal," and will draw on her experiences growing up on the
city's South Side and later raising a family in a home that is
within walking distance of some of the proposed Olympic venues.
During an Olympics rally at the White House last week, the first
lady said she feels "deeply honored" to be able to make the case
for her hometown in Copenhagen.
"I know that Barack and I would feel such tremendous pride to
see the Olympic torch burning brightly in the city that we love so
much," she said.
Chicago faces tough competition from Rio de Janeiro, Madrid and
Tokyo. Heads of state representing Rio and Madrid are expected to
attend the Copenhagen meeting.
That's where the cities, which have gone through months of
preparations, presentations and visits by IOC members, will get one
last chance to make their case. Each city has 45 minutes to
present, followed by 15 minutes of questions. In a random drawing,
Chicago was selected to go first.
A majority of 51 percent of the secret ballot vote is required
to win the bid. IOC president Jacques Rogge has said this year's
vote is too close to call, and the winner could be decided by a few
With some Olympics-watchers predicting a tight race between
Chicago and Rio, there's added pressure for the president to help
his adopted hometown cross the finish line.
Even if he doesn't make the trip to Copenhagen, the White House
says the president has been actively engaged in helping Chicago. He
has reached out to Rogge, sent letters to some of the IOC voting
members and made targeted phone calls to key members. That outreach
will continue as the October meeting approaches.
During last week's Olympics rally, the president said a winning
bid would not only be a success for Chicago, but the whole country.
"Chicago will make America proud," he said. "And America will
make the world proud."