Leaders from around the world march during a rally against terrorism in Paris, on January 11, 2015

Leaders from around the world march during a rally against terrorism in Paris, on January 11, 2015 Philippe Wojazer/AP

Obama’s No-Show in Paris March Was a 'Mistake,' White House Says

Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Monday that the Obama administration 'should have sent someone with a higher profile' to the unity rallyin France this weekend. By Marina Koren

On Sunday, more than 40 world leaders joined millions of people in marches across France in a show of solidarity after a week of deadly terrorist attacks. President Obama wasn't there—and the White House now says someone from Washington should have been.

"Some have asked whether or not the United States should have sent someone with a higher profile than the ambassador to France, and I think it's fair to say we should have sent someone with a higher profile to be there," said White House press secretary Josh Earnest on Monday.

The top U.S. representative in attendance at Sunday's anti-terrorism marches was the U.S. Ambassador to France Jane Hartley.

Earnest cited timing and security concerns for the president's absence. "Had the circumstances been a little different, I think the president himself would have liked to have had the opportunity to be there," he said. "The fact is that this is obviously a march that the planning for which only began on Friday night, and 36 hours later, it has begun. What's also clear is that the security requirements around a presidential level visitor or even a vice president level visitor are onerous and significant."

Obama's absence at the rallies, which included at least 3.7 million people, came as a surprise. Many other world leaders—all of whom require heightened security, too—were there, like British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, two leaders unlikely to be seen anywhere at the same time, attended. Russia sent someone from Moscow, too.

Earnest said that Obama visits are more complicated that travel by other heads of states. "The security precautions that we have in place for the president of the United States are sometimes more onerous that the precautions that are put in place for other world leaders," he said.

Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry, two people the White House often sends in place of the president, did not attend. Obama's absence, along with barely no explanation from the White House about it, has not been good for optics. Obama had offered strong words of solidarity to France, which he called the United States' "oldest ally," last week, so why not fly to Paris in a symbolic show of support?

"Our president should have been there," wrote Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in a Time op-edon Monday blasting Obama for not attending the march this weekend.

Earnest wouldn't say on Monday whether there were plans for the president to go, or if there was an internal discussion on whether he should attend.

Asked whether the criticism from Cruz and others was fair, Earnest said, "I guess what I'm saying is we agree we should have sent someone with a profile."

The Sunday march came after a series of deadly shootings in and near Paris last week. On Wednesday, two shooters opened fire in the offices of Paris newspaper Charlie Hebdo, killing 12 people and injuring 11 more. Attacks continued on Friday when gunmen held hostages at two separate sites near Paris.

Priscilla Alvarez contributed to this article.