Spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters that the White House regretted sending only the U.S. ambassador to France and an assistant secretary of State to the march, which drew more than 40 world leaders and about 1.5 million people to show support for victims of last week's terrorist attacks in which gunmen opened fire at a newspaper and a kosher market, killing more than a dozen altogether.
"It's fair to say that we should have sent someone with a higher profile to be there," Earnest said, adding that the decision should not raise doubts that the administration stands "shoulder-to-shoulder with our allies in France."
Critics quickly blasted the White House for leaving the U.S. underrepresented at the event, and allies expressed bewilderment at the missed opportunity. A photograph of the world leaders – with arms linked in solidarity – splashed across front pages and TV around the world. Among those present were French President
White House officials would not describe how they decided to essentially sit the event out. The decision was not made by
The president was at the White House all day Sunday, with no public events on his schedule. Earnest declined to comment on how Obama spent his day. Potential surrogates had little explanation. Vice President
That left Jane Hartley, the U.S. ambassador to France, and Victoria Nuland, the assistant secretary of State for Europe, as the highest-ranking officials at the march.
Although the White House acknowledged a higher-level official should have attended, it did not necessarily concede the president should have been the one to make the trip.
Earnest suggested security was a factor in the decision, noting that it was a massive, outdoor rally organized in just a couple of days. The president's presence would have changed the nature of the event, he said.
"I'm confident that the professionals at the Secret Service could overcome those challenges, but it would have been very difficult to do so without significantly impacting the ability of common citizens to participate in this march," he said.
Still, there's little sign a presidential or vice presidential trip was ever seriously considered. A Secret Service official said the agency was not consulted about the possibility.
"We were never asked or notified about a trip to Paris," said the official, who asked not to be named discussing security matters.
Kerry announced Monday that he was shuffling his schedule to visit France at the end of the week. He insisted that the criticism of the administration was "quibbling," given officials' repeated expressions of support.