Let the pomp and madness of a presidential visit begin.
President Barack Obama’s quick jaunt into Omaha on Wednesday afternoon will assuredly tie a few people up in traffic, while giving 8,000 others who snapped up tickets a chance to score a memorable selfie with the Democrat.
It also will be a chance for Obama to talk about Nebraska’s thriving economy and, perhaps, revisit his call for more gun control — the White House invited the head of a group called Nebraskans Against Gun Violence to attend his speech.
He also is expected to squeeze in a visit to the home of a new Omaha mother, whose name has not been disclosed. The White House said she had recently written the president a letter.
“She had just had a baby and was thinking about what the future holds for her son,” said Cecilia Munoz, White House director of the Domestic Policy Council.
In addition, Obama is slated to meet with the husband of an Omaha police officer killed in the line of duty last year.
The president’s visit laid the groundwork for a little partisan friction — and for a late change of heart by Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts.
On Monday, Ricketts rejected an invitation to greet Obama, saying he had work to do in Lincoln. That prompted Democrats to issue a press release Tuesday, lambasting Ricketts’ decision as “petty.” Ricketts then doubled down, emphasizing that he was given short notice of the presidential invite and saying he had placed a telephone call to Obama instead.
A few hours later, however, Ricketts suddenly reversed course and said he would greet Obama on the airport tarmac.
“I’m grateful to my staff who worked so hard to rearrange my schedule, so that I could welcome the president to Nebraska,” Ricketts said.
Obama is set to visit Nebraska on Wednesday, the day after his final State of the Union address to Congress. He is expected to use the state’s low unemployment rate as a backdrop for his argument that the United States has improved economically under his policies.
Rep. Brad Ashford, a Democrat from Omaha, will accompany the president on Air Force One, while Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert accepted an invitation to greet the president at the airport.
“I feel as the leader of this city, I should meet and greet the president of the United States,” said Stothert, a Republican. “And I’m honored to do it. It’s not saying I agree with his policies, but I respect the office.”
However, Stothert will not attend Obama’s speech. She said she decided to give away the 10 tickets given to her by the White House to staff members in her office and others, saying she will have had her chance to meet the president.
Ricketts, who is delivering his State of the State speech to the Nebraska Legislature on Thursday, originally planned to send Lt. Gov. Mike Foley in his place to greet Obama.
Democrats quickly noted that past Nebraska political leaders have welcomed presidents from either party into the state. For example, Nebraska Gov. Mike Johanns, a Republican, greeted Bill Clinton when the former president visited Kearney. And Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey, a Democrat, welcomed George W. Bush.
This is Obama’s second big rally in Nebraska, but his first as president — with all the trappings and the attendant Secret Service concerns. (His earlier big rally came during his 2008 campaign for the office.)
Presidential visits are notorious for tying up traffic. When a president visits a state, a specially fortified limousine and several sport utility vehicles crammed with Secret Service agents await his arrival at the airport. His motorcade then travels without stopping to its destination, with police and others closing off the streets on both sides of his route.
During one Bush visit in 2004, the motorcade sped through parts of Bellevue going in excess of 60 mph.
A premium is placed on security.
For example, all the parking lots around Baxter Arena will be closed Wednesday because of security concerns. In order to accommodate the parking needs of those coming to Obama’s speech, the University of Nebraska at Omaha closed for the day.
“We are very excited to have the president at UNO,” said Emily Poeschl, director of marketing and events at UNO. “It’s going to be a huge day in our history.”
While thousands of people lined up Sunday to pick up free tickets for the event, some were invited to attend, including Amanda Gailey, an associate professor of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who is the founder and president of Nebraskans Against Gun Violence. Her organization opposes legislation that would weaken or roll back existing gun-control laws in Nebraska.
Gailey said she received a personal telephone call from the White House several days ago, asking her to attend the speech and stand in a receiving line to greet the president.
She said she hopes the president talks about gun control, noting that Nebraska has the second-highest rate of black homicides.
Obama also plans to meet with Hector Orozco, the husband of Kerrie Orozco, the Omaha police officer gunned down while attempting to arrest a felon in May.
Hector Orozco will ask the president to support a bill that would speed up the naturalization process for spouses, children and parents of first responders killed in the line of duty.
Orozco came to the United States illegally in 1999 but has legal work status today because of a visa issued in 2012. He was named a legal permanent U.S. resident late last year. But absent a change in U.S. law, he now must wait five years to apply for citizenship.
Current law allows individuals with a green card to immediately apply for citizenship if their spouse died while serving in the military. The Kerrie Orozco Act, a bill introduced by Ashford, would offer the same benefit to the spouses of first responders.
Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer contacted Ashford last week to see if he could arrange the meeting between Obama and Orozco and his children, Natalia, Santiago and Olivia Ruth.
World-Herald staff writers Joseph Morton, Maggie O’Brien, Bob Glissmann and Henry J. Cordes contributed to this report.
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