Obamas take a weekend break from Washington

President Obama and the first lady leave their daughters and the White House behind for a trip to picturesque Asheville.

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By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 25, 2010

ASHEVILLE, N.C. -- Don't call it a vacation, the White House says. It's a "getaway," or a "weekend away" or maybe just a "break."

Whatever you call it, President Obama and the first lady made it clear to their staffs that there would be no interviewing of Supreme Court nominees or big briefing books in advance of long meetings.

(See pictures of the Obamas' vacation)

Instead, the Obamas took a step off the Washington treadmill from the moment they arrived here. They chowed down on some North Carolina barbecue and escaped for a Blue Ridge Mountain hike within moments of getting off their plane.

That's not to say that real life doesn't always intrude just a bit for Barack and Michelle Obama, even when the White House is temporarily tucked away in the side of a mountain, surrounded by lush forests and rolling green hills.

The president issued a statement on the anniversary of the slaughter almost a century ago of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks, for the second time passing up an opportunity to use the term "genocide," despite promising during his campaign to do so. Activists and officials from across the spectrum were quick to express disappointment.

On Sunday, Obama faces the grim task of eulogizing the 29 miners who died in West Virginia April 5 after an explosion rocked their coal mine.

But at least for a day and a half, aside from a few briefings, the president's usual packed schedule of meetings, speeches, motorcades and public events was replaced with more relaxing activities.

He had hardly checked into the Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa Friday afternoon before he was on the links for a quick nine holes, finishing after nightfall. Saturday morning, he was up at dawn for another round, this time a 5 1/2- hour full 18 holes.

Reporters were kept away from the action, though a handful were allowed to watch his final hole Friday night. The president took the wheel of a golf cart, steered it up near the green of the 10th hole and made several warm-up swings before putting.

The ball fell a bit short of the hole, but fellow golfers Marty Nesbitt, Eric Whittaker and Marvin Nicholson allowed him to take a gimme.

Asheville was ready to welcome the Obamas as it had previous presidential vacationers. In an eyeglass store in the quaint downtown, a sign read: "Welcome Mr. President. We can help you SEE the way out of the Recession!" A spice store announced: "Hey Mr. President, check out the spice girls. We voted for you."

The local newspaper, the Asheville Citizen-Times, blogged in real time about the president's activities. At one point, the paper noted the Twitter comments from deputy press secretary Bill Burton, whom the paper identified as "the official White House twitter person Bill Burton."

But for most of the weekend, the Obamas stayed within the secure confines of the resort, venturing out only for dinner Saturday night.

Michelle Obama played tennis Saturday morning, aides said. There was no official confirmation that she availed herself of the spa facilities, but several people reported stern-looking Secret Service agents standing outside the spa entrance Saturday.

The Obamas are expected to return to Washington on Sunday evening after the memorial service in West Virginia.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company

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