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Obama's vacation: Time with the family ... and the nuclear codes

Obama's vacation in Maine will be a short one. But no matter where they go, presidents never really leave their job the way a typical white-collar professional does when he packs his beach towel and powers down his Blackberry.

By Scott BlandContributor / July 16, 2010

President Obama walks with his family toward Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House before departing for a weekend in Bar Harbor, Maine, Friday.

Larry Downing/Reuters


President Obama heads to Maine this weekend for a short summer vacation with his wife and daughters. It is a hallowed Washington tradition: Every year, presidents go on vacation, and every year, their political opponents lambaste them for demonstrating insufficient focus on America’s problems.

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But no matter where they go and what their trips are called, presidents are never really disconnected from their job the way a typical white-collar professional is when he packs up his beach towel and powers down his Blackberry.

“The president is always on call, 24/7, if there is a crisis,” says presidential historian Robert Dallek. “They’re lucky if they go on vacation and there’s no crisis, and then they get some downtime. But they’re always on call.”

IN PICTURES: Presidential vacations

For one thing, the president can reach his principal advisers at a moment’s notice, and many of them remain on duty during presidential vacations. Sometimes, aides will even accompany the commander in chief on a holiday – Henry Kissinger was a frequent guest at President Richard Nixon’s compound in Key Biscayne, Fla. The president’s daily briefings on national security and the economy happen as though he had never left the friendly confines of the White House.

High-tech, secure videoconferencing equipment also follows Mr. Obama and other presidents wherever they go. Obama will be renting his Bar Harbor vacation home this weekend, but historically, the White House and the Secret Service have had wide scope to “improve” presidential second homes. The program initially focused on enhancing security, but now permanent presidential retreats, such as George W. Bush’s Crawford, Texas, ranch, are wired with communications gear.

Some presidents have gone overboard with the renovations – famously, Mr. Nixon’s Florida residence received millions of dollars in upgrades, including the addition of a floating helipad.