NPR : News

Filed Under:

Obama's Lunch: Sandwich With A Side Of Shutdown Messaging

Before President Obama canceled his Asia trip, some of us wondered how he could possibly leave the U.S., especially for the exotic resort island of Bali, during the federal government shutdown.

Forget the logistical complications caused by having so many staffers unable to work the trip. What about the optics of having the president at a lush tourist destination while hundreds of thousands of government workers were furloughed and worried about missing paychecks?

Obama solved that potential problem by canceling his overseas trip, which would have started Saturday evening.

So how might the president fill the coming week when he had expected to be in Asia? Friday might have given us some indication. Obama and Vice President Biden surprised the White House press corps and lunchtime pedestrians by strolling from the White House to a local lunch spot and ordering up some sandwiches, just like regular folks.

In case anyone couldn't guess the "why" of the lunchtime stroll and stop, Obama explained:

"Part of the reason we're here is we're starving," the president said. "The other reason we're here is that right now this establishment is providing a 10 percent discount to all federal workers who are on furlough. ... And that I think is an indication of how ordinary Americans look out for each other and aren't obsessed with politics and aren't trying to extract concessions from each other."

Many Washington retailers are using such discounts to entice suddenly frugal government workers to keep spending, so it's not all about altruism, of course.

But that would have been off the message Obama aimed to deliver while mingling with average citizens.

There may have been another reason behind the public lunch, too: the need for him to respond to this paragraph from a Wall Street Journal story on Friday:

"Said a senior administration official: 'We are winning...It doesn't really matter to us' how long the shutdown lasts 'because what matters is the end result.' "

The impromptu stroll allowed the president to be in a position in which a journalist could ask him about that. It's a standard tool in the political messaging tool kit.

A journalist did ask, allowing the president to respond: "There's no winning when families don't have certainty about [whether] they're going to get paid or not ..."

That's was one large side order of messaging with the president's sandwich.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit


Latest LGBT Films Move Beyond 'Coming Out' Narrative

There are a large number of LGBT films in theaters this fall. NPR explores what that says about Hollywood and society in general.

Remembering Paul Prudhomme, The Louisiana Chef Who 'Made Magic'

The New Orleans chef changed the way the world saw Louisiana cooking. He has died at the age of 75.
WAMU 88.5

The Politics Hour - October 9, 2015

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe joins Kojo and Tom Sherwood in the studio.


Beyond The 'Like' Button: Facebook Comes To Our Emotional Rescue

Facebook reveals new emojis it's testing to expand the iconic "Like" button. All Tech Considered welcomes a new host, who tries to explain her vision for the blog using Facebook's seven "Reactions."

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.