Obama to stay mum on Trump as he returns to public life

Mr Barack Obama kite surfing in February at British tycoon Richard Branson's island Moskito in the British Virgin Islands.
Mr Barack Obama kite surfing in February at British tycoon Richard Branson's island Moskito in the British Virgin Islands.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON • Mr Barack Obama's extended post-presidential vacation is about to end.

After spending weeks in French Polynesia - including time on the yacht of the movie mogul David Geffen along with celebrities Bruce Springsteen, Tom Hanks and Oprah Winfrey - he will return to Chicago on Monday for his first public event as a former president.

His self-imposed silence since Mr Donald Trump's inauguration as president in January will end with a series of events over the next four weeks.

A Monday event with students at the University of Chicago will be followed by an awards ceremony in Boston; a series of public remarks as well as private paid speeches in the United States and Europe; and an appearance at the Brandenburg Gate in Germany with Chancellor Angela Merkel.

And yet, Mr Obama's supporters, who have been waiting eagerly for him to respond to his successor's accusations and policy reversals, are likely to be disappointed.

Even as he witnesses President Trump's relentless and chaotic assault on his legacy, Mr Obama remains stubbornly committed to the idea that there is only one president at a time. Those closest to him say the former president does not intend to confront Mr Trump directly on immigration, health care, foreign policy or the environment during any of his events.

"Why are we not hearing from him? We've got to hear from him," said Ms Sarah Kovner, a New York City Democratic activist who raised more than US$1 million (S$1.4 million) for Obama's campaigns. "Democrats are desperate... Everything that Trump is doing really requires a response."

Mr Obama's aides say he will also not criticise Mr Trump in his private paid speeches. Instead, Mr Obama is preparing remarks that focus on broader themes: civic engagement, the planet's health, the need for diplomacy, civil rights and the development of a new generation of young American leaders.

The aides would not say how much Mr Obama will be paid per speech, but former President Bill Clinton averaged more than US$200,000 per speech between 2001 and 2015; former President George W. Bush is reportedly paid US$100,000 to US$175,000 for each appearance.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 23, 2017, with the headline 'Obama to stay mum on Trump as he returns to public life'. Print Edition | Subscribe