Opening Saturday's CBS Early Show, co-host Chris Wragge proclaimed: "Image Problem: The President is on vacation and under fire. From the jobless numbers to the Mosque mess – why is the man with the soaring rhetoric having such a hard time getting his message across?" The headline on screen during the later segment read: "Image Issues; Can Obama's Team Bring Campaign Magic Back?"
Introducing the segment, co-host Rebecca Jarvis referred to "conservative critics" taking issue with President Obama's vacation time on Martha's Vineyard. In a report that followed, White House correspondent Chip Reid made sure to parrot administration talking points on the matter: "White House advisers stress that this is a working vacation with numerous daily briefings....White House officials say they're confident the American people understand that with such a high-pressure job, a President needs and deserves some time to unwind and recharge."
Reid also compared Obama's time-off with that of his predecessor: "By the end of this trip, President Obama will have taken 9 vacations and visited Camp David 14 times for a total of 80 vacation days since he took office. But at the same point in his first term, President Bush had taken far more time away – 14 trips to his Ranch in Texas and 40 to Camp David. The total, 225 days." During Obama's earlier trip to Maine, Reid made the same comparison.
Following Reid's report, Jarvis spoke with conservative radio talk show host Amy Holmes and Jennifer Palmieri of the liberal Center for American Progress. Beginning with Holmes, Jarvis wondered about the President's "image problem": "...the President has received some criticism here for the types of vacations he's been taking....Why do you think the White House is having such a tough time shaping its image right now?"
Turning to Palmieri, Jarvis cited various low poll numbers for Obama and raised the possibility of replacing White House staff: "The team from Chicago that put this man in office, Jennifer, does that team need to be replaced at this point in time with the approval so low?" Palmieri dismissed the idea, but Jarvis went back to Holmes and asked: "Why do you think they were able to stay so on point throughout the campaign and now it looks like the administration is really missing the mark?"
Holmes replied in part: "President Obama has weighed into such a wide diverse range of issues, most recently the Ground Zero Mosque, that he has muddled his own message about what is it he's really trying to accomplish." In her final question to Palmieri, Jarvis pressed: "Why isn't the Obama administration keeping the focus number one on the jobs picture in this country?"
Here is a full transcript of the August 21 segment:
CHRIS WRAGGE: Image Problem: The President is on vacation and under fire. From the jobless numbers to the Mosque mess – why is the man with the soaring rhetoric having such a hard time getting his message across?
REBECCA JARVIS: Now to President Obama on vacation for the third time this summer. This is a ten day get away and the others were much shorter but his conservative critics say the trip is sending the wrong message. CBS News chief White House correspondent Chip Reid is traveling with the President in Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. Beautiful scene behind you, Chip, good morning.
CHIP REID: It sure is, Rebecca. In fact, critics are saying that the President is spending too much time in places like this, creating an image that's inappropriate for these difficult economic times.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Image Issues; Is the President Struggling to Stay On Message?]
President Obama in casual clothes browsed at a bookstore on the first full day of his ten-day stay in Martha's Vineyard. Later, he went off to play golf. But White House advisers stress that this is a working vacation with numerous daily briefings.
JOHN BRENNAN [ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT FOR COUNTERTERRORISM & HOMELAND SECURITY]: There are a number of issues that the President is following very, very closely and expects to be kept informed about developments on those issues.
REID: The President has come under fire from some conservatives for his vacations this summer, first to Bar Harbor, Maine, last weekend to the Gulf, and for the First Lady's trip to Spain. Critics say his attention should be on the dire economy and the plight of average Americans.
RUSH LIMBAUGH: Yes, he's been working so hard, he's tamed the economy, he's tamed Iraq and the oil spill's fixed. He plugged the hole and now he gets to go to Martha's Vineyard.
REID: By the end of this trip, President Obama will have taken 9 vacations and visited Camp David 14 times for a total of 80 vacation days since he took office. But at the same point in his first term, President Bush had taken far more time away – 14 trips to his Ranch in Texas and 40 to Camp David. The total, 225 days. Presidents, though, are never truly on vacation. Crises often arise. For example, the Christmas day bomber tried to strike while President Obama was vacationing in Hawaii. And for President Bush, Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf during a long stay at his Ranch. White House officials say they're confident the American people understand that with such a high-pressure job, a President needs and deserves some time to unwind and recharge, Rebecca.
JARVIS: Thank you, Chip Reid. CBS News's Chip Reid. So why has it become so hard for the man who ran such a disciplined campaign for President to control his message now and his image in the White House? Joining us is independent conservative Amy Holmes, co-host of America's Morning News, and Jennifer Palmieri of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, a liberal think tank. Jennifer and Amy, great to see both of you this morning. Thanks for being with us.
AMY HOLMES: Good morning.
JENNIFER PALMIERI: Good morning.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Image Issues; Can Obama's Team Bring Campaign Magic Back?]
JARVIS: And, Amy, let's start out with you, because obviously the President has received some criticism here for the types of vacations he's been taking, he spent a day visiting the Gulf and now he's spending ten days in Martha's Vineyard. His wife, Michelle, visited Spain in the midst of this economic crisis. Why do you think the White House is having such a tough time shaping its image right now?
HOLMES: Well, they're having a tough time because they're having a tough economic time. But count me among the conservatives that does not begrudge our Presidents their vacations. In fact, I wish politicians spent more time outside of the beltway, less time in Washington, and being really in touch with the American people. Martha's Vineyard, maybe not exactly in touch, maybe he should be in a camper, I'd like to see that. But, I'm not one of the people that's actually attacking the President on taking some downtime.
JARVIS: A lot of people, though, however are thinking that the President is falling short, his approval ratings have dropped this last week, Jennifer. Across the board, we saw a number of approval ratings that were particularly weak, the Associated Press, 49%, Time, 46%, the Gallup poll, only 42% approve of the President. The team from Chicago that put this man in office, Jennifer, does that team need to be replaced at this point in time with the approval so low?
PALMIERI: No, I don't – I think that the – that the team from Chicago has been dealt a very difficult hand and they're doing just fine. But the – President Obama's approval ratings are certainly lower than they have been in the past, but is worth noting that they're higher than President Clinton's approval ratings were in 1994 at the same time and even higher than President Reagan's approval ratings were in 1982 at this same time. And the – I think the Reagan and the Obama situation are sort of – are good comparisons, because Reagan, also, had inherited a very difficult economy.
And, you know, the Presidents had a lot of legislative victories, but the White House understands very clearly that you don't get points from the American people just for legislative victories. They want to see results. And the uncomfortable truth that the White House is wrestling with is that a lot of these policies that they've enacted take time for people to see results in their everyday lives and I think, you know, the economy used to shed 600,000 jobs a month when Obama took office. Their adding jobs now each month, not as many as they'd like, but the economy is slowly recovering. But, they understand that there's a frustration that exists until people see these changes really take effect and that's just going to take some time.
JARVIS: Amy, why do you think they were able to stay so on point throughout the campaign and now it looks like the administration is really missing the mark?
HOLMES: Well, there's a big difference between campaigning and governing and when you're campaigning, you can stay on message with that close team from Chicago, you know, hope and change. But once you get into government, you're actually dealing with this – panap-
HOLMES: This huge array – panoply, thank you – this huge array of issues. And where I think I might disagree with Jennifer in terms of the Obama-Reagan comparison, is that Obama came in with much higher approval. So his fall-off, the drop-off has been much more dramatic than what Ronald Reagan faced and I think also President Obama has weighed into such a wide diverse range of issues, most recently the Ground Zero Mosque, that he has muddled his own message about what is it he's really trying to accomplish. So we can also look at his policies, even Barney Frank, the liberal from Massachusetts, said that it was quote-unquote 'dumb' of this administration to promise that their stimulus bill would keep unemployment below 8%, we're at 9.5. So he see – the Democratic Party itself is sort of like shooting within the circle when it comes to their own message and this President and they have advisers telling them this fall run, do not walk, away from President Obama.
JARVIS: Jennifer, isn't everybody in this country worried about jobs, why isn't the Obama administration keeping the focus number one on the jobs picture in this country?
PALMIERI: Well, I think that when you see when the President gets out in the country, as he does probably a couple of days a week, that is what he's – that is what he's talking about. And they have taken a lot of steps in the beginning of the administration to stabilize the economy and I think that the reason why you don't see his approval ratings falling off worse is because people understand that he did bring us back from the brink of a depression. And they also understand, and the polling reflects this, that it takes more than 18 months to get out of as a big of a hole as we did have in economy. So I think that people are frustrated but they do understand that why this is so difficult for the President to get out of.
JARVIS: Jennifer Palmieri, Amy Holmes, thanks so much to both of you for being with us.
PALMIERI: Thank you, Rebecca.
HOLMES: Thank you.