Tags: obama | vacation | scrutiny

Obama Vacation Plans Under the Microscope

Friday, 31 Jul 2009 09:28 AM

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WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama, consumed by the rigors of managing two wars and the worst economic slump in decades, soon heads for a respite on an upscale Atlantic island — a trip that has raised eyebrows.

During the last week of August, Obama and his family are set to holiday on Martha's Vineyard, a Massachusetts island retreat favored by Democratic political royalty from the Kennedys to the Clintons.

After an extensive search, the Obamas — and their security detail — are believed to have settled on Blue Heron Farm for their first presidential summer getaway.

Local paper the Vineyard Gazette reported the Obamas had rented the 28.5-acre property, which would likely rent for $35,000-50,000 a week.

The farm, which hosts "a white Victorian farm house, a reconstructed Pennsylvania hay barn and a Vermont shed," was sold for $20 million in 2005, according to the Gazette.

The first family, including Bo the dog, will also be able to avail themselves of an on-site apple orchard, swimming pool, golf practice tee, and basketball court.

As Washington sinks into its steamy summer torpor, Obama will also spend a few days in the cool of Maryland's Appalachian Mountains, at the presidential retreat, Camp David, his spokesman said.

Perhaps predictably, the White House's ostentatious choice of lodging and Obama's decision to go on holiday at all has raised some eyebrows while unemployment approaches double digits nationwide.

Obama defended himself in an interview with CBS last week.

"Do I think every single day about the hardships that the American people are going through? Absolutely," he said.

"Do I think the American people think that because of those hardships, I shouldn't spend a little bit of time with my daughters? I don't think that's how the American people think about it."

But for some experts Obama is facing a set of challenges perhaps unparalleled since president Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War.

And a quick August break is unlikely to offer the same level of relaxation afforded to his predecessor, George W. Bush, who was known to take long sojourns at his Texas ranch.

Some fear a much-needed holiday may be scuttled by Obama's ambitious agenda.

He is engaged in a high-stakes battle to pass sweeping healthcare reform, a battle which has defeated many of his predecessors and cost him political capital.

His approval rating has dipped under 60 percent in recent polls, and the healthcare debate is now likely to rage over the summer.

Last Friday, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs dismissed suggestions that healthcare would consume the president's summer.

"August isn't being re-jiggered to address healthcare. We always knew for months that we would be discussing this issue," Gibbs said.

He also dismissed suggestions that August would be a quiet month without healthcare, with crises looming in Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and North Korea.

"Nobody in planning meetings decided that we should just take August off," Gibbs quipped.

For his part Obama acknowledged the pressures of the job.

"Are there days I say, 'Boy, this is a big dose'? Absolutely. Are there days where I think that, you know, we've suffered setbacks and I've got to continually question and re-examine how I'm approaching problems? All the time," he told CBS.

"I mean, there's a constant process of re-evaluation and self-reflection that the job forces on you.

"But this country just makes me confident. I have faith that, in the end, we will do what's right for the next generation."

Obama will be hoping that such faith can drive him into September, when the debates on healthcare, climate change, and financial regulation loom, as well as a U.N. general assembly and a G20 summit which Obama will host in Pittsburgh.

© 2009 Agence France Presse. All rights reserved.

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