Oct 20, 2014 3:33 AM

Obama keeps his schedule clear to focus on Ebola

The Associated Press

CHICAGO (AP) Rarely one to leave anything to chance, President Barack Obama is playing it by ear this week as his administration's response to the Ebola scare continues to evolve.

After waking up in his own bed Monday at his family's home in Chicago, Obama voted early for the midterms and was to attend a fundraiser for Democrats. How he'll spend the rest of the week is anyone's guess.

That's because Obama's schedule this week is a work in progress, in a departure from the normal practice in which the president's schedule is previewed days in advance. The blank slate reflects the White House's attempt to stay nimble, leaving Obama room to maneuver amid a public health crisis that has been anything but predictable.

Last week, Obama twice had to cancel planned campaign trips at the last minute to stay in Washington to focus on Ebola. This week, Obama is hoping to avoid such last-minute cancelations and show he's singularly focused on the task at hand.

So even though it's crunch time for the midterm elections, with Democrats counting on their president to help get out the vote, Obama hasn't made any promises to campaign this week with candidates.

Still, Obama made a point of voting early Monday to illustrate the Democrats' push to get out the vote now and not wait until Election Day. They're hoping to turn out Democratic-leaning voters such as minorities and young people who frequently skip voting in midterm years.

Obama voted Monday at a community center named after the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. near his family's home on Chicago's South Side. He called that act of casting a ballot the most important job in a democracy is the job of citizen.

He also visited campaign headquarters for Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, who is running for re-election in Obama's home state, and delivered snacks and offered a pep talk to volunteers.

But faced with public anxieties over Ebola, even the U.S.-led military operation against the Islamic State group may take a lower profile as Obama seeks to offer assurances that stopping the disease in its tracks is Priority No. 1.

White House aides have acknowledged the federal government's initial response to Ebola reaching American soil was lacking, and hope a more robust response now will make up for early errors. In a sign of how all-encompassing the Ebola situation has become, Obama convened a rare Saturday evening meeting of roughly 20 top aides and Cabinet officials to discuss Ebola.

Obama's new "Ebola czar," Ron Klain, is expected to start work this week after being tapped by Obama on Friday to coordinate the government-wide response.

On Sunday, the Pentagon announced it would form a 30-person support team to assist civilian medical professionals in the U.S. if needed, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention prepared to revise safety protocols for Ebola that failed to prevent two hospital workers in Dallas from contracting the virus from a patient who later died.

The seat-of-his-pants approach is a change of pace for Obama, who is typically reluctant to get sidetracked by events of the moment. His aides tend to hunker down when faced with setbacks outside their control. But in recent months, Obama has come under criticism for maintaining his schedule golf, vacation and all even when events in Iraq, Ukraine or the U.S.-Mexico border demanded his attention.


Reach Josh Lederman on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joshledermanAP


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