Lots of Family Time -- and Books -- on Obama's Vacation Agenda

President Obama takes to the greens at Farm Neck Golf Club in Oak Bluffs, Mass. He plans to keep mostly to himself while on vacation, his spokesman says.
President Obama takes to the greens at Farm Neck Golf Club in Oak Bluffs, Mass. He plans to keep mostly to himself while on vacation, his spokesman says. (By Alex Brandon -- Associated Press)
By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 25, 2009

MARTHA'S VINEYARD, Mass., Aug. 24 -- President Obama hit the links Monday, the first full day of his vacation, after a morning workout and some tennis with his wife at the 28-acre waterfront estate he has rented for the week.

UBS Investment Bank President Robert Wolf and White House aide Marvin Nicholson joined Obama and his friend Eric Whitaker for a round of golf. The foursome played at Farm Neck Golf Club, a semi-private course on Martha's Vineyard.

"You know, he's on vacation. So everything is a little bit loose," spokesman Bill Burton said of Obama on Monday at an elementary school gymnasium that is serving as a briefing room. "You know, you wake up, you have some breakfast, you work out, and then you decide, 'Oh, what do I feel like doing today?' He's doing that just like anybody else."

Burton fielded some questions about CIA interrogations, detainee policy and health-care reform. But much of the briefing was dedicated to gleaning a bit more about the president's getaway.

Obama has been coming to Martha's Vineyard for about 10 years, Burton said, visiting five or six times. While he praised the hospitality of the island's residents, the spokesman made it clear that the president will keep mostly to himself.

"Hopefully, going forward there will be some opportunities for him to be out in the public," he said. "But, for right now, he's just spending a little time with his family."

On Sunday night, Obama, his wife, Michelle, and their daughters, Malia and Sasha, stayed at home and held a dinner for senior adviser Valerie Jarrett and her daughter, and Whitaker and his family.

Burton said the president also plans to do some reading, though the list of books he offered seemed ambitious for a seven-day break. It includes George Pelecanos's "The Way Home," Richard Price's "Lush Life," Thomas L. Friedman's "Hot, Flat and Crowded," David McCullough's "John Adams" and Kent Haruf's "Plainsong."

The books are a collection of presidential themes, from Pelecanos's thriller, which is set in Washington, to Friedman's economic treatise. Price's novel, in the words of the New York Times Book Review, is a story in which "class and color collide on the tangled, once tenement-lined streets of New York City's Lower East Side."

Responding to some Republican criticism of Obama taking a vacation during an economically difficult time, Burton said: "As I recall, the previous president actually had taken quite a bit of vacation himself. And I don't think that anybody bemoans that or bemoans this president trying to take some time with his family to recharge his batteries and get ready for the fight ahead."

White House aides said Obama does not have plans to see Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who is ailing at his nearby home in Hyannis Port, despite rumors that the Secret Service was spotted there.

"I think that if Secret Service agents were there, they probably heard, like all of you already know, that they have great lobster rolls out there and they were probably just checking them out," Burton joked.

Burton also responded to questions about whether Obama will visit with Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, who has a house on the island. Gates's recent altercation with a police officer in Cambridge, Mass., sparked a national debate over racial profiling, culminating in a meeting at the White House that Obama mediated.

"No plans," the spokesman said of a possible meeting with Gates. "But, like I said, he's on island time. Anything can happen."

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