Friday 30 September 2016

Barack Obama's last battles as President: Zika funding, the budget, and $400m paid to Iran for never-completed sale of military equipment

Published 22/08/2016 | 07:22

President Barack Obama, right, and first lady Michelle Obama wave as they board Air Force One at the Cape Cod Coast Guard Station in Bourne, Mass., Sunday, Aug. 21, 2016. President Obama and the first family are returning to Washington D.C. following their vacation on the island of Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
President Barack Obama, right, and first lady Michelle Obama wave as they board Air Force One at the Cape Cod Coast Guard Station in Bourne, Mass., Sunday, Aug. 21, 2016. President Obama and the first family are returning to Washington D.C. following their vacation on the island of Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Barack Obama has returned to the White House after his summer holiday ready for a busy autumn as he prepares for the end of his time as president.

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He can expect his last battles with Congress over Zika funding, the budget and 400 million dollars (£305 million) the administration paid Iran this year for the never-completed sale of military equipment.

Mr Obama is also expected to campaign doggedly throughout October to help elect Democrat Hillary Clinton as president in succession to him.

He returned to Washington after a 16-day getaway to Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, with his wife, Michelle, daughters Malia and Sasha, and their dogs. He played 10 rounds of golf and went out to dinner eight times.

Throughout Sunday, scores of residents lined roads to watch and wave as the motorcade crossed the island on the last day of Mr Obama's final holiday there as president. Signs posted around the island's various towns thanked the family for coming.

He will be at the White House for a brief time before hitting the road again on Tuesday to survey damage from heavy flooding in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, that killed at least 13 people and forced thousands more from their homes.

The president had resisted pressure from Louisianans and others to interrupt his holiday to meet officials and flood victims, and the White House stressed that he was receiving regular briefings.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump filled the void created by Mr Obama's absence, touring the ravaged area on Friday with his running mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence.

The White House will continue to push for money to help keep the mosquito-borne Zika virus from spreading and develop a vaccine.

Florida last week identified the popular Miami tourist haven of South Beach as the second site of Zika transmission on the US mainland. A section of Miami's Wynwood arts district was the first.

Angry rival politicians have promised to keep the heat on the administration over the 400 million dollars it delivered to Iran in January.

Republicans say the money was a ransom to win freedom for four Americans held in Iran. Questioned about the payment earlier this month, Mr Obama said: "We do not pay ransom. We didn't here. And we ... won't in the future."

Iran had paid the money in the 1970s for US military equipment, but the Iranian government was overthrown and the equipment was not delivered.

The explanations have not satisfied critics in and out of Congress. Mr Trump has begun telling supporters at his campaign rallies that Mr Obama "openly and blatantly" lied about the prisoners. House Speaker.

Mr Obama's efforts to help Mrs Clinton into the White House will be boosted by his improved public standing, according to the Pew Research Centre.

His job approval rating stands at 53%, about the same as just before July's political conventions. But his standing among independent voters has reached positive territory for the first time since December 2012.

Some 53% of independents approve of the president's job performance, the centre found, while 40% disapprove. Independents had split 46% to 46% on the question in June.

Mr Obama will not spend much time at the White House in the coming weeks.

After visiting Louisiana, the president heads to Nevada on August 31 to discuss environmental protection at the Lake Tahoe Summit. He then has a trip to China and Laos from September 2-9.

Press Association

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