No man for old coun­try

Pre­de­ces­sors found fa­vorite re­treat at Camp David

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY BEN WOLF­GANG

Pres­i­dent Obama dif­fers from his pre­de­ces­sor on more than just pol­icy. Com­pared with Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush, Mr. Obama has rarely vis­ited Camp David, the sprawl­ing, se­cluded re­treat in north­ern Mary­land that has be­come a reg­u­lar get­away spot for pres­i­dents over the past 70 years.

Al­though Mr. Obama hasn’t shunned the lo­ca­tion en­tirely — he spent his 52nd birth­day there last year — vet­eran Wash­ing­ton re­porters and pun­dits say it’s clear that the 44th pres­i­dent hasn’t warmed up to Camp David in the same way as did Franklin D. Roo­sevelt, Dwight D. Eisen­hower, Jimmy Carter and Mr. Bush.

“I sus­pect part of the rea­son is be­cause his daugh­ters would pre­fer to be in the city, pre­fer to be at the White House,” said Ken Walsh, chief White House cor­re­spon­dent for U.S. News & World Re­port and au­thor of the book “From Mount Ver­non to Craw­ford: A His­tory of the Pres­i­dents and Their Re­treats.”

“I’ve been told that as an ur­ban man, a guy from Chicago, he doesn’t take to Camp David and its ru­ral set­ting as much as other pres­i­dents have. That’s an­other part of it,” he said.

The White House didn’t re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment on the pres­i­dent’s opin­ion of the re­treat. Other po­lit­i­cal re­porters have the­o­rized that Mr. Obama isn’t fond of Camp David be­cause it doesn’t have a full golf course, and the pres­i­dent prefers to spend week­ends on the links.

What­ever the rea­son, records show the re­treat isn’t a fa­vorite of this pres­i­dent.

Since tak­ing of­fice, Mr. Obama has made 32 trips to Camp David and spent all or part of 78 days there, said Mark Knoller, a long­time White House cor­re­spon­dent for CBS News who tracks in de­tail pres­i­den­tial trav­els.

By this point in his pres­i­dency, Mr. Bush had vis­ited the re­treat 104 times, more than three times as of­ten, and spent all or part of 329 days there. Through­out his eight years in of­fice, the for­mer Texas gover­nor went to Camp David 150 times and spent all or part of 491 days there, Mr. Knoller said.

For Mr. Bush, the lo­ca­tion of­fered an es­cape from Wash­ing­ton and an op­por­tu­nity to gather fam­ily and friends in a re­laxed, scenic en­vi­ron­ment, said Bush White House press sec­re­tary Scott McClellan.

“The ex­tended Bush fam­ily en­joyed gath­er­ing there for Christ­mas. The pres­i­dent and Mrs. Bush en­joyed invit­ing their clos­est friends to spend week­ends at Camp David,” Mr. McClellan said. “I think it al­lowed him to re­lax and un­wind a lit­tle more than a pres­i­dent can at the White House. Hav­ing a re­treat like Camp David is a great ben­e­fit for any pres­i­dent to de­com­press, get out­side the White House fish­bowl and spend time with fam­ily and close friends, and I think that is im­por­tant for help­ing to keep a pres­i­dent grounded.”

Fre­quent guests

Other pres­i­dents also have em­braced Camp David’s rel­a­tive seclu­sion.

Pres­i­dent Clin­ton vis­ited more fre­quently dur­ing his sec­ond term. Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush also spent a good deal of time there, and his daugh­ter, Dorothy, was mar­ried at the re­treat.

The el­der Mr. Bush’s pre­de­ces­sor, his­to­ri­ans say, es­caped to the re­treat al­most ev­ery chance he got.

“Pres­i­dent Rea­gan is one of the pres­i­dents who loved it the most. He’d go there just about ev­ery weekend,” Mr. Walsh said.

Camp David, built by the New Deal Works Progress Ad­min­is­tra­tion, opened in 1938 as a re­treat for federal work­ers. When it be­came the pres­i­dent’s com­pound, Franklin D. Roo­sevelt dubbed it “Shangri-La.”

Eisen­hower changed the name to Camp David, hosted for­eign guests and held at least one Cab­i­net meet­ing there.

Pres­i­dents Nixon, Kennedy and John­son reg­u­larly used the re­treat, which of­fers horse­back rid­ing, hik­ing and other out­door ac­tiv­i­ties. Pres­i­dent Ford rode around the property on a snow­mo­bile.

But Camp David also is rich with his­tory.

Mr. Carter fa­mously hosted Egyp­tian Pres­i­dent An­war Sa­dat and Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Me­nachem Be­gin in a meet­ing that re­sulted in the Camp David Ac­cords, clear­ing the way for an Is­raeli-Egyp­tian peace treaty.

Rea­gan and Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Mar­garet Thatcher also met at Camp David, and other pres­i­dents have used the re­treat to host in­ter­na­tional guests and dig­ni­taries. Among the pres­i­den­tial guests over the years are Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ters Win­ston Churchill and Tony Blair and Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin.

For all his ap­par­ent lack of enthusiasm for the com­pound, Mr. Obama did use Camp David when he hosted the Group of Eight sum­mit in 2012, but only af­ter the White House’s plan for Chicago was abruptly scrapped.

Mr. Obama prefers get­aways to Hawaii, his home in Chicago and else­where.

For se­cu­rity and lo­gis­ti­cal pur­poses, those trips are more com­pli­cated than they would be for Camp David.

“In Obama’s case, it is much harder to pro­tect him in Chicago, in an ur­ban set­ting,” Mr. Walsh said. “Camp David has the ad­van­tage of not be­ing dis­rup­tive to a neigh­bor­hood, and it’s easy to pro­tect be­cause it’s a govern­ment com­pound. And it’s not ex­pen­sive to go there be­cause it’s a per­ma­nent fa­cil­ity. Go­ing to Chicago is much more ex­pen­sive than go­ing to Camp David.”


Pres­i­dent Rea­gan and Vice Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush take a ride in the woods of Camp David. Rea­gan vis­ited just about ev­ery weekend.

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