West Wing Briefing

For aides, reporters in Hawaii, a mix of work and play

President Obama and the first family are spending the last days of 2010 on vacation in his old stomping grounds.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 27, 2010; 2:32 PM

HONOLULU - If the beachfront home where the Obamas are staying in Hawaii is the "Winter White House," then you might call the Moana Surfrider this island's version of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

The palm-shaded, seaside resort and spa is housing more than three dozen White House staffers and journalists who followed Obama to Hawaii for his annual vacation.

After all, president is never truly off work, so neither are the people who aid him and the news organizations who cover him.

At the Westin-operated Surfrider, White House staffers keep themselves apprised of major developments in their areas of expertise, occasionally venturing 10 miles down the road to Kailua, the town where Obama is staying, to brief him on the issues of the day. Journalists file stories on the president's activities.

The whole crew, it seems, is hoping that no major controversy or news breaks out, since that would mean more work and far less play.

"Sometimes it's long hours, but it's Hawaii," said Ed Henry, a longtime CNN White House correspondent. The atmosphere is ideal for relaxing, at least compared with being in Washington. The president isn't wearing a suit, so neither is almost anyone else.

Henry, who also covered the Bush White House, is here for the third straight year and has created something of a brand covering Obama's vacations. He trades his traditional news correspondent garb of a suit and tie for a seemingly endless variety of multi-colored Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops.

In addition to his on-air reports, he posts on his Twitter page pictures of the ocean, the landscape and Hawaiian sunrises and sunsets.

Some viewers will e-mail him and say "are you kidding," Henry says, as they view his attire as too casual for covering the president. But others appreciate him for not taking the assignment too seriously.

"I have a whole new wardrobe because of President Obama," Henry said.

In Washington, White House reporters attend an event with the president nearly every day. In Hawaii, Obama intentionally makes almost no major announcements, and most journalists don't even see him most of the days they are here.

Reporters take turns assuming the routine duty of literally following Obama, chronicling when he goes to exercise at a military base near his rental home or takes his daughters to buy shave ice.

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