HONOLULU (AP) — President Barack Obama began his Christmas Day with a trip to the gym and gifts for his family, starting a low-key holiday in his childhood home and a respite from the gridlock of Washington.
The vacation, the president's second since taking office, comes just a day after the Senate passed its version of his top domestic priority, a health care overhaul bill. With versions of legislation passed in both the House and the Senate, Obama departed Washington on Thursday for a trip that was designed to keep the president out of the public view and give him a hard-earned break.
The White House said the first family ate roast beef, potatoes and traditional side dishes at a rented, $9 million estate on Oahu on Friday. The president and first lady Michelle Obama didn't exchange gifts with each other, although they did with their daughters, aides said.
The White House said there would be no public events while the first family took a break from Washington and the political challenges that await the president's return in the new year. Officials said work would continue on Obama's agenda and he would receive necessary briefings.
Officials emphasized that they did not plan to make news, as they did during the Obamas' summer vacation on Martha's Vineyard when they nominated Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke for a second term.
Even so, the workspace for the traveling White House press corps included a camera-ready podium with U.S. flags for backdrops should Obama need to address reporters.
The president, a first-year chief executive who has inherited — and tackled — an economic crisis worse than anything the United States has experienced in decades, doesn't really get vacation amid two wars. Even his departure was delayed because his top advisers wanted him in Washington to witness — or baby-sit, depending on the official — the U.S. Senate pass its piece of a massive government overhaul of health care coverage.
White House spokesman Bill Burton told reporters aboard Air Force One on Thursday that the president wants to spend his holiday in his birthplace away from the news-of-the-moment distractions that have dominated his first year in office. The best any of the president's aides could promise would be bets whether lefty Obama would out-drive his good friends — joining him from Chicago — on the golf course.
The Obamas spent last Christmas and New Years on the island awaiting the Inauguration in Windward Oahu at a house that rents for about $4,000 a night. He played basketball at his high school, ate shave (never shaved, as the mainland says) ice, toured a zoo and aquatic park, and spread the ashes of his grandmother, who died just days before his historic election.
Early this Christmas Day, Barack and Michelle Obama — and their motorcade — visited a nearby Marine Corps base for a morning workout. Reporters accompanying the first couple didn't see the fit duo.