Updated 3:40 p.m. | BALTIMORE — President Barack Obama may not be Jay Leno, but he has earned top billing at the annual issues conference for Senate Democrats at a hotel where he's speaking Thursday.
His mid-afternoon appearance is entirely off limits to the media, in contrast to his 2010 appearance down the street for a similar retreat with House Republicans. This year, most of the media attention was with the new Senate majority GOP and their House counterparts, who huddled for a joint retreat in Hershey, Pa.
There, reporters were being treated to pen-and-pad sessions and media availabilities with prominent Republicans from both sides of the Rotunda, including House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris-Rodgers and her Senate counterpart, John Thune of South Dakota.
On his way through the lobby of the Hilton Baltimore Hotel, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, told CQ Roll call the meetings were "going well," but he declined to provide any details. At least one senator, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, left the premises ahead of Obama's arrival.
Ahead of the president's stop, the hotel was running just as it would on any other weekday, with convention goers abundant in the lobby, but with some of the obvious trappings of a presidential visit: the X-ray machine, medal detector and Secret Service.
Before heading down to the hotel at Camden Yards to meet with the bulk of the Democratic caucus, he stopped for lunch at Charmington's Cafe, north of the retreat venue, with Baltimore's own Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, the ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, and a group of three local women to highlight his efforts to expand paid sick leave.
"I just want to thank this outstanding venue. The food was great," Obama said of the fare. "I ate a little too much, but that's okay, it was off-camera."
The often-persuasive Mikulski had been pushing for Senate Democrats to make the trip to Baltimore.
"So today, I'm going to be announcing our support and advocacy on behalf of a national seven-day — seven sick-day policy all across the country. And we're going to go beat the drum across cities and states to encourage not only that these laws are adopted nationally, but also that employers start adopting these policies as well," Obama said.
In a statement to reporters traveling with the president, the White House said Obama was "proposing more than $2 billion in new funds to encourage states to develop paid family and medical leave programs and announcing that the Department of Labor will use $1 million in existing funds to help States and municipalities conduct feasibility studies."
According to a White House fact sheet, the total would be $2.2 billion in new mandatory spending to help compensate as many as five states over three years. That'll be a component of Obama's fiscal 2016 budget request, which is due on Capitol Hill on Feb. 2.
The rollout for the expanded family leave effort began Thursday with a post on LinkedIn by Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett , and includes a directive to federal agencies for them to provide as many as six weeks of sick pay for their workers when they have a child.
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