For the third year in a row, President Obama filled out his "March Madness" bracket on ESPN, but this time he's taking some heavy criticism -- and not for his picks.
, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus took the first shot: "How can @BarackObama say he is leading when [he] puts his NCAA bracket over the budget & other pressing issues?"
Citing crises ranging from the multiple disasters in Japan to unrest in the Middle East and the budget deadlock in Congress, RNC spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said
Wednesday, "With all of those pressing issues on the president's plate, we would be happy to hear the White House explain why filming an ESPN special on the NCAA Tournament should be a priority on his public schedule."
White House spokesman Jay Carney was happy to oblige
. The presidency, he acknowledged, is "a hard job" that requires someone adept at juggling its many demands.
"There are crises all the time, for every president," he said. The earthquake/tsunami/nuclear reactor catastrophe in Japan "is happening halfway around the world -- and it is severe and it is important, and it is the focus of a great deal of the president's attention. As are the events in the Middle East, as are the agenda items that he is pursuing to grow the economy and increase jobs in America."
He also pointed out that Obama said at the outset of the ESPN interview that Americans can help those suffering in Japan by making donations via the USAID website.
In an interview with ESPN's Andy Katz
in the White House Map Room, the president said "the chances are high" that he, like countless other Americans, will divert his attention from business matters from time to time Thursday and Friday as the tournament moves into full swing.
One of his picks -- VCU -- has already rewarded the president's faith, beating Southern California Wednesday night in a play-in game. Boiling the entire field down, the Fan in Chief expects to see Duke, Kansas, Ohio State and Pitt in the Final Four, with Kansas winning it all.
This isn't the first time the president has taken heat for his diversions. His fondness for golf
has drawn criticism from Republicans -- a curious bit of commentary since one of their own, Dwight D. Eisenhower, was famous for his time on the links, even when pressing matters were at hand.
But the president got some unexpected support from the other side of the aisle in that regard Wednesday when former Vice President Dan Quayle came to his defense.
"I'm glad he's out playing golf," Quayle -- a golfer himself -- told Fox Business Channel
. "I think presidents deserve down time. And, believe me, he is in constant communication with what's going on. . . . What do you want him to do, stay in his house and be on the phone with the ambassador to Japan all the time?"