However, Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and 2008 Republican presidential contender, said Obama was right to make an appearance.
"In the current environment, the presence of a head of state is important to get the Games," Romney, who headed the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah, said, noting that former British Prime Minister Tony Blair had set a new standard by personally lobbying for his country's succesful 2012 Olympic bid.
Steele said it raised questions about Obama's priorities.
"Where is the focus?" Steele asked. "At a time of war, at a time of recession ... I think this trip is nice but not necessary for the president. The goal should be creating job opportunities not seven years from now, but job opportunities today."
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs laughed when told of Steele's criticism of Obama's trip.
"Who's he rooting for?" Robert Gibbs said. "Is he hoping to hop a plane to Brazil and catch the Olympics in Rio? I don't know. Maybe it's Madrid."