PRESIDENTIAL PERKS Obama given privacy, few tasks during 16-day vacation in paradise
History will record that on the 12th day of his latest Hawaiian vacation, President Obama tweeted about Obamacare.
That was one of the president’s few visible acts of official business during his 16-day holiday retreat before he and his family return to Washington on Sunday. The president’s winter recess has rivaled just about anyone’s dream getaway, filled with golf, dinners at high-end restaurants and quality beach time.
The president’s aides say he is always on the job, even in the Pacific paradise. Mr. Obama, they said, has received daily presidential briefings — secret guidance culled from intelligence agencies about hot spots around the world.
The White House also issued a statement this week from Mr. Obama and first lady Michelle Obama wishing a speedy recovery for former first lady Barbara Bush, who is hospitalized in Houston with a respiratory ailment.
While in Hawaii, the president also has taken part in a secure conference call about the crisis in South Sudan, signed a handful of bills, called senators about extending expired unemployment benefits and received an update on terrorist attacks in Russia.
Otherwise, the trip has been an unbroken stretch of downtime for the president with his family at a beach house in trendy Kailua, an oceanfront neighborhood in Oahu where the homes rent for $3,500 per day — more than many families earn in a month. The Obamas are paying for the $56,000 cost of the rental home, although taxpayers foot the bill for the first family’s travel on Air Force One and the Secret Service security detail needed to protect the Obamas while hiking or snorkeling.
With Congress approving a two-year budget deal before Christmas, this year’s Hawaiian vacation has been far more tranquil than in 2012, when the president flew to Washington the day after Christmas to negotiate with congressional Republicans about preventing a “fiscal cliff.”
Mr. Obama played golf Thursday with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, Mr. Key’s teenage son Max and White House aide Marvin Nicholson at the Marine Corps base at Kaneohe Bay, rated as one of the world’s best military golf courses. Mr. Key, who is five days younger than the American president and also was elected in 2008, owns a home in Hawaii.
It was Mr. Obama’s seventh round on the links since arriving in Hawaii early Dec. 21. He has added to that eight gym workouts so far at the Marine base.
The Obamas also have taken two family hikes, two beach trips and one snorkeling adventure at a nature preserve. They have met with U.S. troops once and have not attended any church services, even for Christmas.
Reporters and photographers for news organizations that are spending tens of thousands of dollars to “cover” Mr. Obama’s vacation have been kept at a distance and frequently fail to catch a glimpse of the president on his excursions.
The media, which were feuding with White House press officials in Washington about access to the president, were allowed to watch Mr. Obama go out with his daughters and other family and friends for shaved ice at a shopping center on New Year’s Eve.
During the golf outing Thursday, White House handlers brought pool reporters to the second green at the Kaneohe Bay course to watch the president and his playing partners putt. Mr. Obama putted from just off the green and left his ball well short of the hole.
“I guess I should have chipped it, after all,” the president said.
As Mr. Obama well knows, the decisions will get tougher again next week.