In one of the weirdest episodes of his presidency, Barack Obama yesterday popped up in the White House briefing room to somberly warn Russia not to intervene in Ukraine in what critics called an incredibly weak statement, and less than 30 minutes later declared "Happy Hour" with a band of fellow Democrats.
In a hastily scheduled appearance after a day in which Russian troops swarmed into Crimea, the president urged an end to the violence and encouraged Ukrainians "to pursue a course in which they stabilize their country, forge a broad-based government and move to elections this spring."
With his most serious face on, he said he had spoken with President Putin "several days" ago, but added that "we are now deeply concerned by reports of military movements taken by the Russian Federation inside of Ukraine.
"It would represent a profound interference in matters that must be determined by the Ukrainian people. It would be a clear violation of Russia’s commitment to respect the independence and sovereignty and borders of Ukraine, and of international laws," he said.
Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer said afterward on Fox News that “The Ukrainians, and I think everybody, is shocked by the weakness of Obama’s statement. I find it rather staggering.”
He interpreted the statement to mean that when Obama said “We will stand with the international community_ he really meant "We are going to negotiate with a dozen other countries who will water down the statement — in affirming that there will be costs — meaning in making a statement not even imposing a cost, but in making a statement about imposing a cost — for any military intervention.”
Weirder still, minutes later, Obama hit the Capitol Hilton hotel for the Democratic National Committee's winter meeting. He was in an oddly jovial mood, given that he'd just delivered such a somber statement.
"Well, it's Friday. It’s after 5 o'clock. So, this is now officially happy hour with the Democratic Party,” the president said at the huge fundraiser. "I can do that. It is an executive action. I have the authority.”
At one point, an audience member in the raucous crowd yelled: "Tell us about your plans for nuclear war with Russia!
Then this happened, according to the White House transcript:
THE PRESIDENT: I'm sorry, who’s that back there? (Laughter.) What the heck are you talking about? (Applause.)
AUDIENCE: Obama! Obama! Obama!
THE PRESIDENT: No, no, don't worry about it. We're okay. Have a seat. I don't know anything about that plan. (Laughter.) I don't know what you’ve been reading. (Laughter.) Let me return to what I was talking about. (Applause.) See, he thought happy hour started earlier. (Laughter and applause.)
And maybe happy hour started a bit early for the president, too.