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President Obama To Visit Oklahoma Federal Prison, Native American Tribe This Week

President Obama speaking in Cushing, Oklahoma in March 2012.
Joe Wertz
StateImpact Oklahoma
President Obama speaking in Cushing, Oklahoma in March 2012.

President Obama plans to visit Oklahoma to discuss expanding economic opportunities in Indian Country, and make the first visit to a federal prison by a sitting chief executive.

White House spokesman Keith Maley said in an email the president will arrive in Oklahoma Wednesday, July 15 and travel to Durant, where he'll visit the Choctaw Nation. He'll stay overnight before traveling to the El Reno Correctional Institution.

The medium-security facility for male offenders houses about 1,300 inmates and once housed Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

At the prison, the president will meet with law enforcement and inmates and conduct an interview for a Vice documentary airing later this year about the criminal justice system.

Earlier this week the White House hosted several Oklahoma tribal representatives as part of a gathering of Native American youth, according to The Oklahoman's Washington bureau chief Chris Casteel:

The president's trip to Indian Country reflects the attention his administration has given to tribes, which has made him popular among tribal leaders and earned him praise even from some Republicans like Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, who is a Chickasaw. The White House holds an annual tribal conference at which the president speaks and cabinet officials meet with tribal leaders. . . . The president's visit to Durant will come just days after the administration settled a long-running lawsuit with the Choctaws and Chickasaws over alleged mismanagement of tribal assets, including timber land, held in trust by the federal government. Details of the settlement have not been released. Earlier this week, the Choctaw Nation broke ground in Durant on a regional health clinic that will be a joint venture between the tribe and the Indian Health Service.

Next week's trip marks the third time Obama has visited the Sooner State since taking office in 2009. He delivered a speech announcing fast-track approval of the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline at the oil storage tank hub in Cushing in 2012, and also visited Moore in 2013 following the May 19 and 20 tornadoes that took more than two dozen lives.

Saying the president isn't popular in Oklahoma would be an understatement. The president did not visit the state during his 2008 presidential campaign during a close race against 2016 Democratic front runner (and his eventual pick for Secretary of State) Hillary Clinton.

In 2008, Oklahoma saw the widest popular vote gap between Obama and Republican presidential nominee John McCain during the general election - just 34 percent for Obama compared to 66 percent for McCain.

University of Oklahoma political scientist and pollster Keith Gaddietold The Washington Post in 2012 the president started his first term with a respectable approval rating in Oklahoma, but that rapidly collapsed:

“I’d like to say that its a function of the Keystone Pipeline decision or three-dollar gas, but I think it is more profoundly cultural,” Gaddie said. “These voters come from the old agrarian populist tradition in Oklahoma, rather than from Great Society liberalism. They dislike the president, dislike his liberalism, and they were afforded an opportunity to vote directly against him, so they took it. “It is not a rebellion of most Democrats, but it is representative (or symptomatic) of what has been going on here since 2008.”

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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