On Obama vacation, the job tags along

President Obama's vacation to Martha's Vineyard won't be your traditional vacation, if history is any guide. Events have a way of interfering with Obama's rare downtime.

Carolyn Kaster/AP
President Barack Obama, with his daughters Malia and Sasha, waves to a gathered crowd as they leave the Bunch of Grapes book store in Vineyard Haven, Mass., Friday, where the first family is vacationing.
Jim Young/Reuters
President Obama waves to supporters as he leaves the Bunch of Grapes bookstore (where he bought Jonathan Franzen's 'Freedom') in Martha's Vineyard, Mass. Friday. Mr. Obama and his family are taking a 10-day vacation on the island.

Imagine: You’re ready for a well-earned end-of-summer break, some golf, a dip in the ocean, ice cream with the kids. And oh by the way, you’ll be taking a bunch of people from the office with you.

That’s what President Obama faces as he begins his 10-day vacation on Martha’s Vineyard. Top aide Valerie Jarrett is there, though since she’s an old friend from Chicago, maybe having her along doesn’t totally count as “office.” Plus, she has her own place on the island. (The Obamas are renting the same digs as last year, Blue Heron Farm, at their own expense.)

But Jarrett isn't the only White House staffer who tagged along with the president. Pete Rouse, another senior adviser known for his low-key problem-solving, came along as well. Ditto Homeland Security Adviser John Brennan. Denis McDonough, the National Security Council chief of staff, is also going to “show up at some point to help out,” per deputy White House press secretary Bill Burton, who is there doing the honors with regular briefings.

IN PICTURES: Obama family vacations

Mr. Obama will also be getting his regular intelligence briefings and briefings on the economy and “other issues as they come up,” says Mr. Burton. And they will.

As Mr. Burton discovered on last year’s Martha’s Vineyard vacation, the presidency never sleeps – or relaxes, really. Last August, the junior spokesman urged the press corps to relax, have a good time, and maybe go for some strolls on the beach.


Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke dropped by the island and stood by Obama’s side as the president nominated him for a second term. That same day, political ally and mentor Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts passed away, and Obama headed up to Boston a few days later to deliver the eulogy.

This year, Burton knew better than to suggest a light journalistic load. He encouraged the press “to think that this is going to be the hardest that they will have ever worked in their entire lives. You’ll probably be working every day, early till late, maybe really early in the morning till really late at night, and over the weekend as well. And you’ll probably never see outside of your bed and breakfast where you’ll be staying.”

Just setting expectations, Burton winked.

Maybe Obama will have it easier. But no matter how relaxing – or not – the next 10 days turn out to be, he already faces criticism for taking his family (again) to the exclusive resort island off Cape Cod during difficult economic times. If nothing else, Obama defenders can point out that he hasn’t taken close to the amount of time his predecessor, George W. Bush, took away from the White House at this point in his presidency.

According to CBS Radio reporter Mark Knoller – the unofficial historian of White House minutiae – Obama is on his 9th vacation since taking office. As of Aug. 19, “he has spent all or part of 38 days on ‘vacation’ away from the White House,” Mr. Knoller writes. “He has also made 14 visits to Camp David spanning all or part of 32 days. It brings his total time away to all or part of 70 days.”

President Bush, at this point in his first term, had visited his Texas ranch 14 times, for a total of 102 full or partial days. He also visited Camp David 40 times, for 123 full or partial days.

“His ‘vacation’ total at this point in his presidency was all or part of 225 days away,” according to Knoller.

Burton had suggested the word “vacation” belongs in quotes when talking about the president. Knoller obliged.

IN PICTURES: Obama family vacations

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