Obama landed Tuesday in Seattle at the start of a three-day West Coast trip, where he'll also visit San Francisco and Los Angeles and plans to attend at least five fundraising events, less than four months ahead of midterm elections that could change Washington's balance of power.
After Air Force One touched down at Boeing Field around 3:15 p.m., he stopped for about 10 minutes to shake hands, take photos and hold a baby.
Washington politicians including Gov. Jay Inslee joined him in a SUV to drive in a motorcade to his first event. The governor's office said he was asked to brief the president on the state's massive wildfires.
The president's first top is in a nearby Seattle neighborhood and then he's set to cross Lake Washington for a fundraiser in Hunt's Point.
Drivers have been warned to prepare for road closures around the region Tuesday afternoon and evening.
His visit coincides with construction on Interstate 90, where three of the westbound lanes are closed between Bellevue and Mercer Island.
The trip comes as Obama is dealing with a series of high-profile tests of his presidency, from Eastern Europe to the Middle East to the Southern U.S. border. The downing of a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine last week, the eruption of war in Gaza between Israelis and Palestinians, and the humanitarian crisis caused by the influx of Central American minors seeking to cross the border has put a strain on the White House.
Even on the road, the troubles abroad were not far from the president. While aboard Air Force One in route to Seattle he placed a call to Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte to discuss evidence that Russia continues to send weapons and fighters into Ukraine. The Malaysian airline flight originated in Amsterdam, and many of the deaths were Dutch citizens.
Also, as he pulled up to a fundraiser in a wealthy neighborhood on Lake Washington, Obama was met by about two dozen demonstrators protesting Israel's actions in Gaza and chanting "free, free Palestine" and "killing children is a crime."
On the fundraising trail Obama remains a potent draw among the Democratic Party's wealthy donors, who pay up to $32,400 to be in intimate settings with the president.
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.
So far this 2013-14 election cycle, Obama has attended 73 fundraising events for Democratic Party groups. During the 2009-10 midterm cycle, when Republicans won control of the House, Obama attended 98 fundraisers, according to CBS News White House reporter Mark Knoller, who keeps detailed records of presidential travels and events.
Obama has devoted much of his effort to the Democratic National Committee, which last month raised $9 million and cut its debt to $3 million from a one-time high of $23 million. Obama also will raise money for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the political arm of the party that assists Democratic House incumbents and candidates.