SEATTLE -- Fundraising in Seattle amid a swirl of overseas and border challenges, President Barack Obama on Tuesday offered federal help to deal with Washington state's largest wildfire.
Obama landed Tuesday in Seattle at the start of a three-day West Coast trip, embarking on the one mission that has regularly proved a winner for him - raising money for his fellow Democrats. He will also visit San Francisco and Los Angeles, less than four months ahead of midterm elections that could change Washington's balance of power.
Air Force One touched down at Seattle's Boeing Field around 3:15 p.m. The president was greeted by Washington Governor Jay Inslee and he chatted a few minutes with King County Executive Dow Constantine before heading over to a small crowd of well wishers standing behind a rope line. The president shook hands, snapped photos with people and picked up an infant in a bright pink jacket before getting into a motorcade.
En route to the first fundraiser, Gov.Inslee was able to join Obama in his motorcade to brief him on the wildfires burning in the state.
Obama's first stop was at Bruce and Ann Blume in Seattle's Madrona neighborhood, where he spoke to about 250 donors who paid up to $20,000. The proceeds went to the Democratic National Committee.
As Obama's motorcade pulled up, a group of about 40 people stood on the lawn near the driveway protesting Israel's actions in Gaza, holding signs reading such as Save Gaza and chanting free, free Palestine.
During the fundraiser, Obama addressed the wildfires burning in the state. He said he was briefed by Inslee on the drive there and was able to contact Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Craig Fugate to authorize an emergency declaration to ensure electrical power in the affected areas.
Obama has asked Congress for $615 million in emergency spending to fight Western wildfires. He said spending on such fires has increased over the years.
A lot of it has to do with drought, a lot of it has to do with changing precipitation patterns and a lot of that has to do with climate change, said Obama.
Obama also touched on other topics, including the picking up economy, oil production and alternative energy. There's a lot of reasons for optimism, he said, noting that also includes health insurance, but he added there is still unease, including some big challenges overseas, including Ukraine, Syria, Iraq and Israel-Gaza.
Later Obama crossed Lake Washington at Hunts Point in Medina to attend an event for the Senate majority PAC, a super committee that can raise unlimited amounts of money. The event was hosted by former Costco Wholesale Corp. CEO Jim Sinegal and his wife, Jan, and philanthropists Tom and Sonya Campion. PAC officials did not respond to requests for information about the event and it was closed to the press.
President Obama departed Seattle around 8 p.m. for San Francisco. On the three-day West Coast trip, Obama is scheduled to attend at least five fundraising events in Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
The fundraising highlight of the trip will be a Democratic National Committee event Wednesday at the Beverly Hills home of Shonda Rhimes, the producer of the ABC series Scandal, a drama set in modern-day Washington. Kerry Washington, who plays the lead role in the show, is among the hosts.
In the capital, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell faulted Obama for not being in town while Congress debates vital legislation.
I'm not going to give him advice about how to allocate his time, but he's certainly not spending the kind of time with the people he needs to pass legislation and convince people who have a vote, who were sent here to legislate, of the virtues of whatever position he has, McConnell said.
White House officials say Obama is more than able to carry out all his duties and attend to crises while on the road.
In terms of fundraising, it's a responsibility that presidents in both parties for generations have been responsible for, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Tuesday. And the president, like his predecessors, is interested in supporting members of his party who are on the ballot in 2014 and that's part of what he'll be doing over the course of this week.
Obama did abandon one idea for the trip, however. The White House had been in touch with late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel about a presidential appearance on his show during the stop in Los Angeles.
We elected not to do it this time, but hope we can arrange to do it in the near future, Earnest said.