Obama's Hawaii vacation mixes golf with such topics as arms pact and reelection

The first family celebrates the holidays at the White House with a variety of guests.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 25, 2010; 1:37 AM

KAILUA, HAWAII - Almost immediately after he walked off Air Force One early Thursday morning, a relaxed-looking President Obama had a green lei around his neck and a smile on his face.

It was the first sign that while the president will be working while he is on vacation, it's not a "working vacation." Administration aides emphasized that the president wanted real down time after an intense two-month period after Election Day, and Obama started his 11-day trip with several hours of golf Thursday. He spent much of Friday afternoon at the beach with his daughters, Sasha and Malia.

Forced to delay his vacation by five days as Congress worked on a series of the president's top priorities, Obama added a day on the back end. He will now depart for Washington on Jan. 2, instead of Jan. 1 as originally scheduled.

White House spokesman Bill Burton said Obama would spend time "recharging his batteries, spending time with family and dealing with presidential duties."

To be sure, a president is never truly off. He has spoken to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev about a nuclear weapons treaty between the United States and Russia that the Senate ratified on Wednesday. Obama receives a daily national security briefing.

And the president is spending some time preparing for a critical stage of his presidency in which he must work with a House now controlled by the GOP and start laying the groundwork for his reelection campaign in 2012. Aides said he is reading "President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime," a biography by Lou Cannon.

Obama is considering three major issues while on vacation: ideas to overhaul his internal White House staff; a replacement for Lawrence H. Summers, the outgoing director of the National Economic Council; and his State of the Union address for early next year, which the administration wants to use to tout ideas it believes can unite the two parties.

With those projects to work on, top aides including Jim Messina, Obama's deputy chief of staff, took the trip to Hawaii with him. But the president also has a group of longtime pals here to join him in relaxation.

Two friends from Chicago, Martin Nesbitt and Eric Whitaker, brought their families to Hawaii to vacation with the president, as did Mike Ramos, who went to high school here with Obama but now lives in Colorado. Whitaker, Ramos and Bobby Titcomb, a childhood friend who still lives in Hawaii, played golf with Obama. Obama will also see his half sister Maya Soetoro-Ng, who lives here.

The president and his family are staying in a five-bedroom beachfront rental home in a town called Kailua, about 15 miles from Honolulu, far from the tourists who populate the center of the city.

The Obamas have vacationed for years in Hawaii and stayed at this home for the holiday season in 2008 and 2009.

Dubbed the "Obama Winter White House" by the realty company that owns it, the "Plantation Estate" is listed on rental Web sites as costing up to $42,000 a week, although it's unknown how much the Obamas will pay.

The president is fairly secluded from public view, although he often takes trips out with his daughters while on the island. Reporters who follow him were allowed to watch him play only a handful of the 18 holes in his round of golf.

Hawaiians remain proud and fascinated by the local boy turned Leader of the Free World. The Web site of the Star-Advertiser, the local newspaper here, has an "Obama Watch" on its home page highlighting his every move, such as "President and first lady start Christmas Eve with workout."

Local news was dominated by a police chase in which a driver fleeing Honolulu police accidentally drove into the area where the Obamas are staying. He was nowhere near the president, who was playing golf, and far from the Obama's rental house.

Local police eventually arrested the man, and the Secret Service said the man was never a threat to Obama's security.

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