President Obama is moving one of two major world summits from Chicago to the presidential retreat near Washington, with an aide saying the president has decided he wants a more “intimate” setting than his hometown for the May gathering.
The Group of Eight meeting will be moved to Camp David, according to the White House, but the gathering of NATO allies and the International Security Assistance Force will go on in Chicago as planned in mid-May.
Camp David will more closely approximate the remote settings in which the G8 leaders prefer to gather. Summits in large cities typically see clamorous protests, while those in the countryside are calmer and more sedate.
“It’s not about Chicago being able to handle logistics, as evidenced by the fact that the NATO and ISAF meetings will be held there, which are far larger than the G8 meeting,” said Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for Obama’s National Security Council. “There are a lot of political, economic and security issues that come together at the G8.”
“This was really about the president looking for a more informal setting with these close partners,” she said.
For several months, the summits have been scheduled for Chicago during the same week in May.
But Obama wanted the more informal setting in which to have a “free-flowing discussion with his fellow leaders,” a second official said. Obama consulted with Mayor Rahm Emanuel about the decision to move the summit, the official said.
The G8 summit will take place on May 18 and 19, addressing a range of economic, political and security issues. The president will then host the NATO allies and partners on May 20 and 21 in Chicago, where they will discuss the war in Afghanistan and their planned withdrawal.
Emanuel had personally lobbied Obama, his old boss, to host both summits. It would have been the first time since 1977 in London that the two organizations held meetings in the same city at the same time.
Emanuel’s office put out a statement this afternoon saying he wished “President Obama and the other leaders well at the G8 meeting at Camp David and look forward to hosting the NATO Summit in Chicago.
“Hosting the NATO Summit is a tremendous opportunity to showcase Chicago to the world and the world to Chicago and we are proud to host the 50 heads of state, foreign and defense ministers from the NATO and ISAF countries in our great city May 19-21.”
When the news broke Monday, the host committee first put out a statement mentioning only that Chicago was still looking forward to hosting the NATO meetings. But host committee executive director Lori Healey later addressed the loss of G-8.
“I’m sure it was a decision that was not made lightly,” she said. When asked if she had knowledge of the cancellation prior to Monday, she said she did not.
“Obviously, the White House doesn’t consult with the host committee,” she said. “I understand the reasons. There are critical issues that the White House wants to discuss in a more intimate setting. That’s the situation.”
Healey stressed the positive notes of NATO still being scheduled for Chicago, saying the host committee’s “program” for the weekend would remain unchanged, except the need to change the nature of a social event planned for Saturday night.
“It will ultimately have minimal impact,” Healey said. NATO, which has a larger membership and includes six of the eight G-8 countries, will draw larger numbers of visitors to the city, creating “our ability to show Chicago off to the countries of the world.”
Host committee officials were already reacting to the changes, she said.
“It’s not our first time at the rodeo. We have some pretty experienced people over here and we’re already making some adjustments,” said Healey, who also ran former Mayor Richard Daley’s failed bid to win the 2016 Olympics.
Chicago police estimated that 2,000 to 10,000 demonstrators were expected to show up for the overlapping G-8 and NATO summits. At least two major demonstrations were already planned for downtown during the summit, and organizers said they wanted to send crowds of marchers down Michigan Avenue in the middle of the day.
Police sources said the department has already sent about 8,400 of its roughly 12,000 sworn officers through some form of crowd-control training.
To date, about 2,400 officers drawn mostly from tactical and gang units have completed the training designed to prepare them for the front lines of crowd control. Those officers were expected to be outfitted in the black body armor that police call “turtle suits.”
An additional 6,000 officers have taken a less intensive program of up to two days to make them ready to be responders working downtown during the summits, dressed in more traditional uniforms, sources said.
The mayor had also sought tough changes in ordinances governing public demonstrations. But in the face of criticism from aldermen and civil rights groups, he was forced to scale them back.