MSNBC's Chuck Todd on Thursday fretted over the blame Barack Obama is enduring for making televised NCAA picks during the ongoing crises in Libya and Japan. After gushing over the President's basketball predictions on Wednesday, Todd followed up by lamenting, "Makes people wonder why anyone wants the job."
Talking to former Bush aide Tony Fratto, a defensive Todd argued, "[The White House has] been criticized for using him too much in time of crises. Here's a week where, now, people are criticizing, 'We're not seeing him enough.'"
Justifying Obama's basketball picks, golf outings and speeches to Democratic donors, the Daily Rundown anchor added, "...The schedule is the schedule. And you get- you get, almost, handcuffed to it sometimes, don't you?"
Todd did offer some mild criticism, wondering if the President's actions leave "you scratching your head." But, he repeatedly spun for Obama, touting, "Look, he was working until midnight last night. We got a readout of a phone call he did with the Prime Minister."
A transcript of the March 17 segment, which aired at 9:46am EDT, follows:
CHUCK TODD: Plus is President Obama missing in action?
JIMMY FALLON: Today President Obama went on ESPN to announce his NCAA tournament picks. Or, as Japan put it, "Really? You're kidding me!"
TODD: Mmmm, when you make the late-night monologues, that's not always good. Coming up, we're going to dig in to some of the criticism the President has been receiving, particularly from Republicans about his priorities and the questions about various leadership issues.
GRAPHIC: Is Obama Disengaged? Obama's Full Plate
TODD: Well, from Washington's budget crisis to the disaster in Japan and the unrest in the Middle East, President Obama has had quite the full plate. Publicly, though, he has been sticking to his own agenda, focusing on jobs and education, even his NCAA basketball bracket. So, is the President's leadership style striking the right balance. CNBC contributor Tony Fratto is a former Bush White House deputy press secretary and he's managing director of Hamilton Place Strategies. You've been on the inside and you know when these critiques come in. So, you look at just the events yesterday and the only two times we saw him in public were the NCAA brackets interview, that ESPN debuted at noon yesterday and a speech to top Democratic Party donors. It was not a fund-raiser, but it was a speech to those folks, on a day when so much else was going on.
TONY FRATTO (Fmr. Bush Deputy Press Secretary): Right.
TODD: Look, he was working until midnight last night. We got a readout of a phone call he did with the Prime Minister. But, just perception. We saw the comedy, that it made the monologue. Perception wise, are you looking at that, just scratching your head?
FRATTO: Absolutely. Especially with the ESPN picks. Look, I'm a huge college basketball fan, I've been to a dozen final fours. I was impressed with his picks and his knowledge of players, but that wasn't what the American people needed to see yesterday. I think no one would have been surprised if he had canceled the on-air-
TODD: Just handed it- Like, here's my brackets. See you next week, maybe?
FRATTO: I'm kind of busy right now. You could see there's lot of big things going on right now. The thing is, when you're President, it's a constant, you know, it's like surfing. I, you know- You want to pick your waves. When it's foreign policy, crises, you can't pick your waves. You have to ride the waves that come in. Domestic policy, you have a little bit of a chance to pick those waves.
TODD: You know, David Brooks had an interesting observation this week about the President and his style. Here's what he writes in part: "The Arab masses have seized control of the international agenda with their marches and bravery. The Republicans on Capitol Hill and in Madison, Wisconsin, have seized control of the domestic agenda with calls for spending cuts. The Obama administration has reacted to both of these movements by striking a prudent, middling course. Prudence can sometimes look like weakness. Prudence is important, but Americans do have an expectation that their will be one, out front, dominating the agenda projecting strength and offering vision." You and I both know these folks in the White House well. You're actually friendly with a lot of these people.
FRATTO: Good people.
TODD: They have been criticized for using him too much in time of crises. Here's a week where, now, people are criticizing, "We're not seeing him enough." I mean, this-
FRATTO: It definitely goes back and forth a lot. Look, we made mistakes. Look, we made a mistake on Katrina whether President Bush should have gone down to New Orleans.
TODD: Well, then you had the fly-over. And then the thing in San Diego, which seemed oddly timed. You keep the schedule. Talk about the pressure of that, inside the White House. Because, in the Bush White House, you had some bad PR moments.
TODD: Like what we just described, because the schedule is the schedule. And you get- you get, almost, handcuffed to it sometimes, don't you?
FRATTO: You can get handcuffed to it. If you think about the amount of assets you commit to moving the President to go to a site and, you know, the investment in that, the Secret Service agents, the security, the cost of it, the attendees who will come action and you want to try to not always be in a crisis mode, you try to- you want to try to keep it. But sometimes you just miss, you know, the sentiment. I think about a comment that Jay Carney made yesterday in reaction to a question whether they should cancel the South America trip that the President will be leaving on, what he said was that, you know, that's- with respect to what's going on in Japan, that's a Japanese crisis, it's not a crisis here in the United States, but when you're president of the United States, all big crises are your crises. When the stock market you just spoke to Becky Quick. When the stock market is doing what it's doing, when it has an energy policy, implication for our, you know, most important ally in the Asian world, that's an American crisis also. I'm not saying he should have canceled the trip.
TODD: Makes people wonder why anyone wants the job.
— Scott Whitlock is a news analyst for the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.