Obama Arrives in L.A. to Appear on 'Tonight Show,' Meet Supporters
UPDATED: The president addresses a possible 2016 Hillary Clinton bid for the White House and talks about Russia's recent anti-gay crackdown and what it means for the upcoming Olympics.
President Barack Obama landed in Los Angeles on Tuesday afternoon to press his agenda -- especially concerning the roll out of ObamaCare -- over a two-day visit in what might be called an “outside the regular channels tour.”
In Burbank on Tuesday, the chief executive taped his sixth appearance on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and on Wednesday morning he'll take housing questions as part of an online forum with the real estate website Zillow.com. Afterward, Obama will travel south to Camp Pendleton for private meetings with Marines who have served in Afghanistan and members of their families.
On the flight out from Washington earlier Tuesday, White House press Secretary Jay Carney explained that Obama decided to appear on Leno's show to communicate with Americans who are "not necessarily readers of newspapers or wire services or necessarily the viewers of cable or broadcast news shows."
"Some of his most substantive interviews have appeared in non-traditional settings, so you never know what you might get," Carney told reporters.
During the taping of the Tonight Show, Leno put Obama through the sort of workout you usually expect on a Sunday morning interview show, but with a few jokes thrown in for levity.
(See videos at the bottom of this post.)
For example, Leno asked Obama about the “bromance” brewing between him and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. The president praised his one-time rival for speaking his mind. “That’s how a classic romantic comedy goes. Initially you’re not getting along and then you keep bumping into each other," Obama joked, according to a pool report.
When asked about his recent lunch with Hillary Clinton, Obama said: “She had that post administration glow." Leno asked if Clinton was measuring the drapes in the Oval Office. Obama laughed and said: "Keep in mind she's been there. She doesn't have to measure them."
On more serious topics, the chief executive told Leno that he did not expect the Russians’ recent spate of discriminatory legislation against gays and lesbians to have any impact on the Sochi Winter Olympics. (The Russians have said that none of the anti-gay measures will be enforced against foreign athletes participating.)
"I think Putin and Russia have a big stake in making sure that the Olympics work, and I think that they understand that for most of the countries that participate in the Olympics, we wouldn't tolerate gays and lesbians being treated differently," Obama said. "They are athletes. They are there to compete. And if Russia wants to uphold the Olympic spirit, then every judgment should be made on the track or in the swimming pool or on the balance beam, and people's sexual orientation shouldn't have anything to do with it."
Obama prefaced his statement by saying he had "no patience for countries that try to treat gays or lesbians or transgender persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them."
Questioned about relations in the wake of the Edward Snowden controversy, the president said he will attend the upcoming G-20 Summit in Vladimir Putin’s hometown of St. Petersburg, despite American “disappointment” over the Russians’ decision to grant the former National Security Agency contractor-turned serial leaker asylum in their country. Obama said the United States and Russian continue to work together on issues touching on Afghanistan and the Boston marathon bombing.
"There are times when they slip back into Cold War thinking and a Cold War mentality. What I continually say to them and to President Putin is that’s the past."
Obama defended the surveillance programs whose details were leaked by Snowden, saying the operations are “a "critical component to counterterrorism." But he said that he knows the surveillance programs have "raised a lot of questions for people ... We don’t have a domestic spying program. What we do have is some mechanisms that can track a phone number or an email address that is connected to a terrorist attack ...That information is useful."
Obama also spoke about the recent verdict in the Trayvon Martin case, which saw George Zimmerman acquitted in the killing of the Florida teenager. Obama spoke about the verdict at an an impromptu appearance in the White House briefing room on July 19.
"I think all of us were troubled by what happened, and any of us who are parents can imagine the heartache that those parents went through. It doesn't mean that Trayvon was a perfect kid. None of us were," Obama told Leno. "When you're a teenager, especially a teenage boy, you're going to mess up, and you won't always have the best judgment. But what I think all of us agree to is that we should have a criminal justice system that's fair, that's just."
During his L.A. layover, Obama was expected to hold at least one private meeting with supporters, sources told The Hollywood Reporter, though the White House on Tuesday remained studiously mum on its subject or guest list.
Several times over the past two years, Obama’s visits to Los Angeles have had both an announced public dimension and a more private and personal -- pointedly unannounced -- aspect, though the purposes of both are strategic and political.
In at least two instances, the president met privately with groups he considers not only campaign donors, but “influencers” -- as he once labeled them -- Hollywood stars and executives with the ability to help convey his message to important segments of the electorate. Like his frequent fund-raising forays into Southern California, these meetings are a reflection of the entertainment industry’s increasing importance to Democratic aspirations -- not as a source of monetary support, but also as a reservoir of high-value campaign surrogates, the sort who can draw crowds around the country.
In late October of 2011, for example, Obama held an unannounced early morning meeting at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel with Weinstein Co. studio head Harvey Weinstein, CAA managing partner and music head Rob Light, ICM president Chris Silbermann, Modern Family creator Steve Levitan, Atlantic Records chairman Craig Kallman, producer/songwriter Bruce Roberts, talent manger and producer Jason Weinberg, UTA music agent Rob Prinz and talent manager and producer Eric Ortner.
Also included in that “casual”, closed-door meeting were Warner Bros. Records president Livia Tortella, talent manager Greg Mertz, ID PR publicists Kelly Bush and Mara Buxbaum, talent managers Bruce Flohr, Michael Green, Steve Moir and Bill Silva, Universial Music Publishing Group executive vice president and head of creative Tom Sturges, entertainment attorney Chuck Ortner and actor/activist Kal Penn.
At the time, sources told THR that all were selected because the White House felt they were enthusiastic supporters of the president with the ability to help shape the public conversation in what was shaping up to be a tough 2012 election cycle. Characteristically, the political press corps traveling with the chief executive never was informed of the gathering.
Eight months later, when Obama was in town for a series of fundraisers, he held another private pre-breakfast meeting at the Beverly Hilton with two dozen of Hollywood’s hottest young stars, whom he urged to become even more deeply involved in his campaign. That group included Jeremy Renner, Glee actress Dianna Agron, Star Trek's Zachary Quinto, Southland's Ben McKenzie, Jessica Alba, Bryan Greenberg, Adam Rodriguez, Zach Braff, Brandon Routh, Ian Somerhalder, Jared Leto and Sophia Bush.
Just two months prior to last fall’s general election, Obama used the private meeting format to offer special thanks to a dozen extraordinarily deep-pocketed Democratic donors quietly gathered on Sunday morning at the home of DreamWorks Animation chief Jeffrey Katzenberg. On that occasion, the chief executive was joined by former President Bill Clinton, whose deep Hollywood ties are well known. At the time, two Obama finance campaign staffers also told THR that the donors, all of whom had given the personal maximum allowed, also were encouraged to consider the needs of the Democratic super PAC, Priorities USA.
Once again, the traveling press corps was kept cooling its heels in the dark -- this time in Katzenberg’s garage.