Obama's Hawaii trip mixes golf, White House duties
Almost immediately after he walked off Air Force One early Thursday on Oahu, a beaming President Obama had a green lei around his neck.
The Washington Post
KAILUA, Hawaii — Almost immediately after he walked off Air Force One on Oahu early Thursday, a beaming President Obama had a green lei around his neck.
It was the first sign that while the president will be working during his vacation, it's not a "working vacation."
Administration aides emphasized that the president wanted real down time after the intense seven weeks since Election Day, and Obama started his 11-day trip with several hours of golf Thursday. He spent much of Friday afternoon at the beach with his daughters, Sasha and Malia, while his wife, Michelle, and dog Bo remained at home.
Mrs. Obama skipped the beach so she could give some lucky children a Christmas surprise. The first lady answered calls for the "Tracking Santa" program, a Christmas tradition run by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).
With help from NORAD's Santa Route Schedule, Mrs. Obama was able to tell children Santa's whereabouts as he made his Christmas Eve rounds.
Last Christmas, the president and first lady surprised troops stationed at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, greeting service members during their holiday dinner. White House officials wouldn't say whether Obama planned to visit the troops again this Christmas.
The base is a frequent stop for Obama during his Hawaiian vacations. He often starts his day with a morning workout at the base gym.
Forced to delay his vacation by five days as Congress worked on a series of his top priorities, Obama added a day on the end and will head back to Washington on Jan. 2, instead of on New Year's Day.
White House spokesman Bill Burton said Obama would spend time "recharging his batteries, spending time with family and dealing with presidential duties."
To be sure, a president is never truly off. He has spoken to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev about the nuclear-weapons treaty between the United States and Russia that the Senate ratified Wednesday, and Obama receives a daily briefing on national-security issues.
The president also is preparing for a critical stage of his presidency in which he must work with a House now controlled by the Republicans and also start laying the groundwork for his re-election campaign in 2012.
Aides said he is reading "President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime," a biography by Lou Cannon, and a biography of President Clinton by Taylor Branch.
Agenda of work
Obama is considering three major issues while on vacation: ideas to overhaul his internal White House staff; a replacement for Lawrence Summers, the departing director of the National Economic Council; and his State of the Union address, which the administration wants to use to tout ideas it believes can unite the Republican and Democratic parties.
With those projects to work on, top aides — including Jim Messina, Obama's deputy chief of staff — took the trip to Hawaii with him. But the president also has a group of longtime pals on hand to join him in relaxation.
Two friends from Chicago, Martin Nesbitt and Eric Whitaker, brought their families to Hawaii to vacation with the president, as did Mike Ramos, who went to high school in Hawaii with Obama but now lives in Colorado. Whitaker, Ramos and Bobby Titcomb, a childhood friend who still lives in Hawaii, played golf with Obama.
The Obamas will spend Christmas Day with the president's sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, and her family, who also live here.
On the first family's Christmas Day menu: steak, roasted potatoes, green beans and pie.
The president and his family are staying in a five-bedroom beachfront rental home in Kailua, about 15 miles from Honolulu, far from tourists in the center of the city.
The Obamas have vacationed for years in Hawaii and stayed at this home for the holiday season in 2008 and 2009.
Dubbed the "Obama Winter White House" by the real-estate company that owns it, the "Plantation Estate" is listed on rental websites as costing $42,000 a week, although it's unknown how much the Obamas will pay.
The president remains largely out of sight, although he often takes trips out with his daughters while on the island. Reporters who follow him were allowed to watch him play only a handful of the 18 holes in his round of golf.
Hawaiians remain proud and fascinated by the local boy turned world leader. The website of The Star-Advertiser, the local newspaper, has an "Obama Watch" on its home page highlighting his every move, such as "President and first lady start Christmas Eve with workout."
Local news Friday was dominated by a police chase in which a driver fleeing Honolulu police accidentally drove into the area where the Obamas are staying. He was nowhere near the president, who was playing golf, and far from the Obama's rental house.
Local police eventually arrested the man, and the Secret Service said the man was never a threat to Obama's security.
Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.
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