President Barack Obama, while weighing U.S. options in response to a militant uprising in Iraq, landed in Southern California Friday night, beginning a weekend visit that will include a swing through Orange County Saturday to speak at UC Irvine's commencement ceremony.
The president, accompanied by first lady Michelle Obama, arrived aboard Air Force One at Palm Springs International Airport at about 6:30 p.m. following a visit to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation near Cannon Ball in North Dakota.
The Obamas will spend the night in Palm Springs, with the president scheduled to fly to the Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base at 9 a.m. Saturday. According to the Democratic National Committee, Obama will take part in a roundtable discussion in Laguna Beach with about 25 supporters who pay up to $32,400.
After the fundraiser, Obama will make his way to Angel Stadium in Anaheim to speak to UC Irvine's graduating class.
UCI students conducted a large-scale campaign to lure Obama to the event, with students and staff collecting signatures on around 10,000 postcards that were delivered along with a video to the White House.
"We are thrilled that the president has accepted our invitation to deliver the keynote address at our commencement exercises this June," UCI Chancellor Michael V. Drake said in March when the White House announced Obama's plans to attend. "We will be commemorating the 50th anniversary of the groundbreaking and dedication ceremonies of our campus. We are proud of the progress we have made during our first half-century, and are looking forward to even greater achievements in the years to come."
President Lyndon B. Johnson took part in the June 1964 dedication ceremony in a pasture that is now home to the university.
More than 8,000 students will receive degrees during UCI graduation ceremonies that will be held over three days, according to the university. The unified event at Anaheim stadium will include all undergraduate, graduate and professional schools, with individual ceremonies planned Sunday and Monday.
As is typical with presidential visits, motorists should anticipate delays and detours. Police said the following closures are being planned Saturday:
- from 8:30 to 8:50 a.m., and from 10 to 10:20 a.m., Pacific Coast Highway will be closed in both directions between Newport Coast Drive in Newport Beach to Ledroit Street in Laguna Beach;
- from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Katella Avenue and Douglas Road will be closed in Anaheim; and
- from 1 to 1:10 p.m., the Orange (57) Freeway will be closed in both directions at Katella Avenue.
Obama will return to Los Alamitos following the commencement address, departing at 1:40 p.m. to return to Palm Springs.
The Obamas are scheduled to remain in Palm Springs for the weekend, leaving at 10 a.m. Monday. The couple have no public events scheduled, according to the White House.
The trip comes amid a military crisis in Iraq, where an Islamic militant group seized control of Mosul, the country's second-largest city, raising fears of a pending takeover of the governing city of Baghdad.
Speaking at the White House Friday, Obama said he was not planning to send ground troops into Iraq, but he will weigh other options offered by his national security advisers over the next few days.
"We'll be monitoring the situation in Iraq very carefully over the next several days," he said. "Our top priority will remain being vigilant against any threats to our personnel serving overseas. We will consult closely with Congress as we make determinations about appropriate action, and we'll continue to keep the American people fully informed as we make decisions about the way forward."
White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters aboard Air Force One on the way to North Dakota that the president would work on the Iraq situation over the weekend.
"While in California, the president will be in close touch with his national security team," he said.
He said he wasn't aware of "any discussion to alter the schedule for the trip at this point."
— City News Service