Updated: 5 p.m.
President Barack Obama decided to delay his trip to Asia, scheduled to begin next week, after Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) encouraged him to stay to help advance health care reform, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Friday.
Pelosi and Reid recently talked to Obama about their progress on health care reform and “all three agreed that it would be helpful to have a few extra days here talking to Members,” Gibbs said.
A Democratic official later said that Pelosi specifically requested that
Obama stay to help with her Caucus.
Obama was slated to leave for Indonesia and Australia on Thursday, but the White House announced Friday morning that he is postponing his trip for three days to keep working on health care. He is now planning to leave on March 21 at 10 a.m.
Gibbs said Obama would spend his extra days in town reaching out to individual and small groups of House Members “that may be at this point undecided on how they’ll vote.” In addition to pressing House Democrats to get on board with the Senate bill, the president will also use his time to build Senate support for passing a reconciliation package that amends the Senate bill to the House’s liking.
Obama has said he wants Congress to send a final bill to his desk by the end of the month and called on House Democratic leaders to get the ball rolling by passing the Senate bill by Thursday. But at least one party leader — House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) — has already said they are not wed to the president’s timeline.
Gibbs signaled a softening on the time frame when asked if Obama expected the House to pass the bill before he left for Asia.
“I will leave deadlines up to … the Speaker,” he said.
The White House spokesman also dismissed a warning by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) Thursday that Obama endangers passage of immigration reform this year if Democrats use reconciliation to pass health care reform.
“I doubt the president would have agreed with that,” Gibbs said.