"This whole shutdown has been completely unnecessary," President says before joining volunteers to prep food...
Washington, DC- With the federal government shutdown fourteen days old, President Barack Obama on Monday afternoon made a surprise visit to Martha's Table, a social services agency that offers groceries and meals to low-income citizens. The President met with furloughed federal workers who have been helping out during the shutdown, and joined the volunteers in prepping food. (Above, making fruit and yogurt parfait)
The visit came ahead of a 3:00 PM meeting in the Oval Office with the bicameral, bipartisan Congressional Leadership, added to the President's schedule on Monday morning. So he wasn't just at Martha's Table to slap together some baloney sandwiches: With the deadline to raise the debt ceiling just days away, Mr. Obama was there to discuss the "devastating" impact of default.
"This week if we don’t start making some real progress in both the House and Senate--and if Republicans aren’t willing to set aside their partisan concerns in order to do what’s right for the country--we stand a good chance of defaulting, and defaulting could have a potentially devastating affect on our economy," President Obama said.
"This whole shutdown has been completely unnecessary."
to the scheduled meeting with Congressional leaders, President Obama said:
"This afternoon I am going to once again urge them to open the
government and urge them to make sure that the united states government
is paying its bills."
He noted "some progress on the Senate side with Republicans recognizing it’s not tenable, it’s not smart, it’s not good for the American people to let America default," but added that
"we’re not going to be able to completely bridge the differences between the parties all at once."
Shutdown risks "the possibility that America’s full faith and credit is damaged just because one side is not getting its way," President Obama said.
"That damage would be greatly magnified if we don’t make sure that the government’s paying its bills, and that has to be decided this week."
All the same, within an hour of the President returning to 1600 Penn, the White House announced that the President's meeting with Congressional leaders had been postponed "to allow leaders in the Senate time to continue making important progress towards a solution that raises the debt limit and reopens the government."
President Obama is familiar with the operation at Martha's Table: He has visited with the First Family before to pack Thanksgiving meals.
Wearing a green apron and plastic food service gloves on his hands, on Monday the President scooped fruit and yogurt into plastic cups, working alongside furloughed federal workers. There was also a group of kindergarten, first, and third graders from Sidwell Friends school, and the President paused to survey their sticky peanut butter & jelly sandwich-making operation (above).
"That's where Malia and Sasha go to school," President Obama told the kids. "Thank you for coming and helping out. You guys are doing a great job--a little messy."
He posed for a photo with the kids, snapped by chief White House photographer Pete Souza, and kept up the banter while smiling.
"Can I just say just in the few moments I've been here I'm feeling a little sticky. I think I got some PBJ on my fingers," President Obama said.
For the photos, he led the kids in saying "cheese."
Then the President moved on to a back table where other volunteers were busy making baloney and cheese sandwiches.
One of the volunteers, identified only as Lauren, said she had just graduated.
"I am unemployed, furloughed right now," she said.
When he was done meeting everyone, President Obama said, "Alright, lets get to work. I'm going to make some sandwiches."
He struck up a conversation with the woman next to him as he got down to business.
"Show me the right technique here," President Obama asked.
He accepted some pointers, and bantered about the plastic bags.
"I got the Ziploc down," he said after a bit. "And then I just slide the sandwich in," he added, on learning the method. "It's got to be sealed."
The sandwich he made had the "presidential thrumb print" on it, Mr. Obama declared.
He added that working while wearing plastic gloves is "tougher than it looks." Then, it was the bags again: "The Ziploc's not zipping," he said.
"It's a little slower than you're accustomed to," President Obama joked. "It's a lot of pressure with the cameras."
The President saluted the furloughed volunteers: "These are people who have not been paid, in some cases are very eager to be back on the job," he said. (Above, chatting with volunteers, including coordinator Meaza Yalew)
Volunteering, he added, "shows the kind of spirit that we have among all kinds of federal workers all across the country."
the President departed at 12:55 PM, a small crowd had gathered outside
in Logan Circle, trying to get a glimpse of the famous visitor, beside a
table holding individual meals ready for hungry people. One woman hoping to see the President was frustrated, pool reported. "Where's the man?" she yelled out, sounding irritated. "We just want to look at him."
The President's visit came after a weekend of no public events, in which he remained huddled behind the White House gates. Last week, he made a shutdown field trip to Taylor Gourmet, to pick up sandwiches and salute the deli owners for offering a 10% discount and free cookies to furloughed federal workers.
*The White House did not release a transcript of the President's remarks, instead releasing the video, above.
*Photos via Martha's Table