Fundraising amid a swirl of overseas and border challenges, President Barack Obama conceded Tuesday that foreign crises are creating anxieties in an American public already worried that a recovering economy is not improving their lives.
Speaking to about 250 donors at a house on the banks of Lake Washington, Obama cautioned against letting those anxieties lead to cynicism and a lack of interest in democracy.
"People who really need government to work for them on their behalf, they withdraw, they opt out, and that makes government even more dysfunctional," he said.
Obama landed Tuesday in Seattle at the start of a three-day West Coast trip, embarking on the one mission that has regularly proved a winner for him — raising money for his fellow Democrats. He will also visit San Francisco and Los Angeles, less than four months ahead of midterm elections that could change Washington's balance of power.
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 his first fundraising event in Seattle, 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."
Obama said the foreign crises had fed the public's overall worries.
"Part of people's concern is just the sense that around the world the old order isn't holding and we're not quite yet where we need to be based on the new order," he said.
Obama appealed to donors to help him change Congress.
"The problem is not the Republican Party per se," he said. "The problem is this particular group right now that has kind of gone off the rails."
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.
Obama first spoke to about 250 donors who paid up to $20,000 at the home of commercial real estate developer Bruce Blume and his wife, Anne. The proceeds went to the Democratic National Committee.
Later Obama attended an event for the Senate majority PAC, a super committee that can raise unlimited amounts of money. The event was hosted by former Costco Wholesale Corp. CEO Jim Sinegal and his wife, Jan, and philanthropists Tom and Sonya Campion. PAC officials did not respond to requests for information about the event and it was closed to the press.
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."