Obama to delay departure for Asia trip

WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama will delay his departure on a trip to Indonesia and Australia by three days until Sunday March, 21, his spokesman said Friday, as he battles for health care reform.

Obama's press secretary Robert Gibbs made the announcement on his Twitter feed, saying the president's wife Michelle and daughters Malia and Sasha, will no longer accompany him on the poignant journey.

"The president will delay leaving for Indonesia and Australia -- will now leave Sunday -- the First Lady and the girls will not be on the trip," Gibbs wrote, just a day after saying the visit would not be delayed.

The White House had been pressing the House of Representatives to make a key vote on his flagship health care reform before his scheduled departure on March 18, but it had become increasingly clear that the deadline was unrealistic.

The journey to Obama's childhood home in Indonesia had been timed with the school holidays to allow the president to show his family where he used to live and the no-show by his children will likely disappoint his hosts.

Gibbs had also said on Thursday there were no current plans to delay the trip, which he portrayed as an important moment in the foreign policy of Obama, who has called himself America's "first Pacific President."

"The president believes it is an extremely important trip, it's an important region of the world, and these are important partners," Gibbs said.

"Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world, obviously has seen, as many countries including ours have seen, the impacts of horrific terrorist activities.

"Australia is a country we enjoy a trade surplus with, something the president is anxious to highlight, as well as a strong supporter of ours in providing support for Afghanistan."

The president is also due to stop in Guam on the way to Asia to see US troops.

Obama has spent over a year trying to cajole Congress into passing the kind of sweeping health care reform that has eluded Democratic presidents for decades.

In recent days he has escalated the fight, staking his own political credibility and authority on passing the bid to expand access to health care for millions of Americans and to cut costs and rein in insurance giants.

In a delicate piece of political choreography, Obama wants the House of Representatives to pass a Senate health care bill, then for both chambers to endorse a package of "fixes" to harmonize the final legislation.

Obama, who lived in Jakarta with his late mother Ann Dunham in the 1960s, said last year in Singapore that he was looking forward to visiting his old haunts in Indonesia.

He was invited to make the trip by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and both sides have said they plan to use Obama's childhood ties to the country to further tighten a crucial pan-Pacific relationship.