OBAMA TO DELAY ASIA TRIP, FOCUS ON HEALTH REFORM…. The White House recently began pushing a March 18 deadline for a House vote on health care reform for a specific reason: President Obama was scheduled to leave town.

The president was set to fly to Asia on the 18th, so he encouraged House leaders to wrap things up quickly, before he departs, so he would be available for 11th-hour appeals to lawmakers. The point was to make it easier for Obama to help the House leadership get to 216 before he left.

House Dems pushed back a bit, arguing that the 18th was unrealistic. As a result, the White House announced this morning that the president will delay his departure by a few days.

President Obama is delaying his trip to Indonesia, Guam and Australia next week, an administration official said Friday, so the White House can focus on passing health care legislation in the House. […]

In fact, the president is no longer taking First Lady Michelle Obama and their two daughters on the trip, an administration official said. The president agreed to delay his departure from March 18 to March 21, an administration official said, shortening the trip for official business only in an effort to show flexibility in the final push on health care legislation. The three-day delay effectively sets a new timetable for the House vote on the measure.

The report was confirmed in a tweet from press secretary Robert Gibbs.

So, is this good news or bad? I’m inclined to see it as a positive move. It gives Democratic leaders a little more breathing room, but still focuses the timeline. This also signals to the House — the vote is coming, and the president is intent on making this push successful.

In case you’re wondering, if there’s a delay, and the votes don’t materialize by Sunday the 21st, the president won’t return to Washington until Friday the 26th.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.