Obamas Arrive in Hawaii for Surfside Respite

President-elect Barack Obama's motorcade drives through the snow to Chicago's O'Hare airport. He and his family are vacationing in Hawaii.
President-elect Barack Obama's motorcade drives through the snow to Chicago's O'Hare airport. He and his family are vacationing in Hawaii. (By Gerald Herbert -- Associated Press)
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By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 21, 2008

HONOLULU, Dec. 20 -- With his Cabinet selections now complete, President-elect Barack Obama left Chicago on Saturday with his family and close friends for a 13-day beachside vacation in Hawaii that will serve as his final reprieve before moving into the White House next month.

After a morning workout in the Windy City, where the ground was covered with snow and Lake Michigan is partially frozen, Obama jetted to Hawaii with his wife, Michelle, and their daughters, Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7. They stepped off their United Airlines charter plane onto a breezy tarmac in the president-elect's birthplace of Honolulu.

As their motorcade whisked them across Oahu, the state's most populous island, to the exclusive Kailua neighborhood where they are staying, scores of locals stood outside their cars, waved and snapped pictures of the first Hawaiian native to be elected president.

The tropical vacation in Kailua offers Obama a final respite before he plunges into his presidency, facing a roiling economy, two wars and a host of other problems. But with just one month before he takes office, this trip will not be all play for the president-elect. Traveling with a small coterie of advisers, Obama will receive his regular daily intelligence briefings, and aides say he will continue to work on the transition.

Obama has no public events planned during the vacation, but an internal investigation into what conversations Obama's advisers have had with embattled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) looms over the trip. The Obama camp could release a statement on the findings in coming days, aides said, perhaps before Christmas.

The Obamas are scheduled to remain in Hawaii until Jan. 1, when they will return to Chicago. The family is planning to move to Washington shortly thereafter, in time for their daughters to start with their peers at Sidwell Friends School when classes resume after the winter break.

Several longtime friends and their families plan to join the Obamas in Hawaii, including Valerie Jarrett, who will become a senior White House adviser; Eric Whitaker, a doctor and former colleague of Michelle Obama's; Martin Nesbitt, a Chicago businessman and Barack Obama's frequent basketball partner. The Obamas probably will visit with the president-elect's half sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, a teacher who lives with her family in Honolulu.

It has become a tradition for the Obamas to vacation with friends in Hawaii over the winter holidays. It was in Oahu in December 2006 where Obama weighed whether to run for president; he formally entered the race two months later. This August, the Obamas vacationed there for about a week with family friends before he accepted the Democratic nomination at the party's convention.

The Obamas may remain out of the public eye for much of the trip, with the media and transition staff stationed across the island in the Waikiki Beach area.

The Obamas are expected to participate in a private memorial service for his maternal grandmother, Madelyn Payne Dunham, who died of cancer at age 86 on the eve of the presidential election.

At the time of her death, Dunham lived in downtown Honolulu, where she and her husband raised Obama.

During the campaign, Obama frequently mentioned Dunham in his stump speeches, and when she became ill in October, the candidate visited her in Honolulu.

"She's the one who taught me about hard work," Obama said in his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. "She poured everything she had into me."

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