8 in 8: A look back at Barack Obama’s eight presidential visits to Arizona
PHOENIX — Outgoing President Barack Obama made eight official trips to Arizona in his eight years in office, but a majority of those came during his first term.
The newly elected president made a total of three presidential trips to the Valley of the Sun in 2009 — his first year in office — before taking the following year off.
He returned to Arizona in 2011 after a mass shooting that left six dead and nearly took the life of former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
Obama would visit for the next two years before taking a break from Arizona in 2014. He returned to the Valley twice in the early part of 2015. His March visit that year would be his last official trip before he left the White House.
It’s a first
Obama made his first presidential trip to Arizona in February 2009, less than a month after being sworn in as president. It was the day after he signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that sought to rehire millions and pump billions into the economy.
In his first official Arizona address as president, Obama told a crowd of thousands at Dobson High School in Mesa about his plan for government-backed mortgage relief programs. His idea was to allow millions of Americans to refinance their mortgages and reduce interest rates to help the nation get back on its feet.
“This plan will not save every home, but it will give millions of families resigned to financial ruin a chance to rebuild,” he said.
Arizona — like the rest of the nation — was hurt by the Great Recession but was hit particularly hard in the housing bubble collapse.
In May 2009, Obama returned to the Valley and spoke at the summer commencement ceremony at Arizona State University.
Thousands waited to see him in stifling heat outside of Sun Devil Stadium. Obama opened his speech with plenty of jokes — including laughing off ASU’s refusal to give him an honorary diploma because he had not yet achieved enough.
“First of all, Michelle concurs with that assessment,” he joked. “She has a long list of things that I have not yet done waiting for me when I get home.
“But more than that, I come to embrace the notion that I haven’t done enough in my life; I heartily concur; I come to affirm that one’s title, even a title like president of the United States, says very little about how well one’s life has been led — that no matter how much you’ve done, or how successful you’ve been, there’s always more to do, always more to learn, and always more to achieve.”
Third time’s the charm
In August 2009, Obama again landed in Arizona. He was in the state to address a national Veterans of Foreign Wars convention.
In his speech, Obama told the VFW that he was increasing the defense budget to ensure American soldiers were the best-armed and best-led military in the world. He also promised to help military families get ahead and improve the Veterans Administration, which was showing the first signs of a wait times scandal that would be uncovered years later.
“We’re keeping our promise to fulfill another top priority at the VA-cutting the red tape and inefficiencies that cause backlogs and delays in the claims process” he said.
Obama added that he planned to partner with U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to cut wasteful spending within the Department of Defense.
But this trip wasn’t all business. Obama took the opportunity to take a daytrip to the Grand Canyon with his family.
They spent about three hours strolling around the canyon’s South Rim, where Obama told his family the last time he visited the park was when he was 11.
Obama’s next visit to the state would not be anywhere near as joyous.
The president spoke at a memorial service after a January 2011 shooting that left six dead and 13 injured, including Giffords, in Tucson. The congresswoman was shot in the head but would make a miraculous recovery.
In his speech to thousands of people at the McKale Center, Obama recognized the shooting would start a new national conversation about the issue but focused primarily on the victims and their families.
“There is nothing I can say that will fill the sudden hole torn in your hearts,” he said” But know this: The hopes of a nation are here tonight. We mourn with you for the fallen. We join you in your grief and we add our faith to yours.”
A year passed before Obama’s next trip to the Arizona.
During his January 2012 visit, the president stopped by the a new Intel plant in Chandler that was under construction. He used the $5 billion plant to encourage others to add to American manufacturing capabilities.
“I’m here because the factory that’s being built behind me is an example of an America that is within our reach,” he told the crowd. “An America that attracts the next generation of good manufacturing jobs. An America where we build stuff and make stuff and sell stuff all over the world.”
This visit would prove eventful for another reason. A tarmac interaction at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport with then-Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer apparently got heated, as Brewer was seen shoving a finger in Obama’s face.
Housing, part two
In his only Arizona address of 2013, Obama paid a visit to Desert Vista High School in August to again discuss the nation’s housing market.
But this time around, his tone was very different. The market looked to be recovering and the president touted the rise in both sales and prices, while the number of foreclosures fell.
“Thanks to the efforts of a lot of people like you, we’ve cleared away the rubble of the financial crisis,” he said. “We’re starting to lay the foundation for more stable, more durable economic growth.”
However, Obama was quick to point out that the nation was still on the long road to economic recovery.
During his trip, Obama also stopped off at Erickson Construction, a local homebuilding company.
Housing, part three
It would be about 18 months before Obama came back to Arizona. In January 2015, he gave another housing speech and announced plans to make homeownership more affordable through mortgage insurance premium cuts.
“It should help further accelerate growth in the housing market and stabilizing prices in areas like Arizona that have a long way to come back and it’s just one more example of the kinds of steps that we can take to build on the progress that’s already been made,” he told a crowd at Central High School in Phoenix.
Obama also visited a single-family housing project.
Obama would make his final visit to Arizona in March 2015, when he met with concerned veterans at the Carl T. Hayden Veterans Administration Medical Center in Phoenix.
His visit came almost a year after a wait list scandal at the facility — in which staffers made it seem veterans were getting timely care but were actually waiting months — rocked the nation. Some veterans died waiting for medical care.
“We all know that there have been significant problems at this facility, that the kind of cooking the books and the unwillingness to face up to the fact … went on too long,” the president said.
Obama also met with the family of Kayla Mueller — a Prescott native who was kidnapped and killed by the Islamic State — and wounded Army Ranger Cory Remsburg, with whom Obama developed a close friendship.