WASHINGTON — The United States will not be sending any of its top officials — either President or Mrs. Obama or Vice President or Dr. Biden — to the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, as part of its delegation to the games.
A former federal official, Janet Napolitano, will instead be leading the U.S. delegation, the White House announced Tuesday, and two out LGBT athletes — Billie Jean King and Caitlin Cahow — will be a part of the delegation as well.
In addition to the Obamas and Bidens not attending the Olympics, no current cabinet members will be a part of the country’s delegation either.
“The U.S. Delegation to the Olympic Games represents the diversity that is the United States,” White House spokesman Shin Inouye told BuzzFeed. “All our delegation members are distinguished by their accomplishments in government service, civic activism, and sports. We are proud of each and every one of them and think they will serve as great ambassadors of the United States to the Olympic Games.”
The highest ranking officials in the delegation will be Rob Nabors, the assistant to the president and deputy chief of staff for policy, attending the opening ceremony, and William J. Burns, the deputy secretary of the State Department, leading the delegation at the closing ceremony.
The news came with less than two months until the opening ceremony is slated to take place on Feb. 7, 2014, and signaled the continued U.S. disagreement with Russia’s anti-LGBT laws and other human rights concerns.
The Presidential Delegation to the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games will include Napolitano; Nabors; Michael A. McFaul, the United States ambassador to the Russian Federation; King, a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, member of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, as well as a former Olympic tennis coach; and Brian A. Boitano, an Olympic gold medalist in figure skating.
The Presidential Delegation to the Closing Ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games on February 23, 2014, led by Burns, will also include McFaul; Bonnie Blair, five-time Olympic gold medalist and one-time bronze medalist in speed skating; Cahow, Olympic silver medalist and bronze medalist in women’s ice hockey; and Eric Heiden, five-time Olympic gold medalist in speed skating.
Stating that “the President’s schedule doesn’t allow him to travel to Sochi,” Inouye noted, “President Obama is extremely proud of our U.S. athletes and looks forward to cheering them on from Washington as they compete in the best traditions of the Olympic spirit. He knows they will showcase to the world the best of America – diversity, determination, and teamwork.”
The delegation announcement was significantly more delayed than had been the case in 2012, when the White House announced First Lady Michelle Obama’s role leading the U.S. delegation to the Summer Olympics in London more than four months before the start of those games. In 2010, both Vice President Biden and Dr. Jill Biden attended the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada. In 2008, President George W. Bush attended the Summer Olympics in Beijing, China.
As recently as Monday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney declined to explain the delay, saying only, “When we have a delegation to announce, we’ll announce it.”
This story was updated at 6:30 p.m. to include White House comment.