West Wing Briefing

Obamas return to the Vineyard, this time hoping for peace and quiet

A look at some of the vacation spots visited by the Obama family.
By Michael D. Shear
Thursday, August 19, 2010; 5:16 PM

Last year, as President Obama began his first Martha's Vineyard vacation, deputy White House press secretary Bill Burton made a classic beginner's mistake.

"I have specific instructions from the president for the press corps," Burton said on Air Force One as the president headed for the Massachusetts island. "He wants you to relax and have a good time. Take some walks on the beaches. Nobody is looking to make any news, so he's hoping that you guys can enjoy Martha's Vineyard while we're there."

Big mistake. The moment the words escaped his mouth, it virtually assured that the trip would be consumed by news: first, the president's decision to reappoint Ben Bernanke as Federal Reserve chairman, and then the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.).

(From firsthand experience, I can report that few "walks on the beaches" were to be had.)

So this week, before Obama was due to return to the Vineyard for a 10-day presidential getaway, Burton tried another approach.

"I would, as the spokesman who's going to go on that trip, encourage anybody else who's going in the media to think that this is going to be the hardest that they will ever have worked in their entire lives," he told the press corps Tuesday. "You'll probably be working every day, early till late, maybe really early in the morning till really late at night, and over the weekend as well. And you'll probably never see outside of your bed and breakfast where you'll be staying."

One reporter picked up on the strategy: "Reverse psychology."

"I'm just trying to set expectations appropriately. I know what I said before the last time we went to Martha's Vineyard, and it turned out a little bit differently," Burton said.

The Obamas arrived on the island Thursday to start their last vacation of the summer. The White House refused to say whether the family would stay at the same very private compound as last year.

"We're not going to announce where he's staying until he gets there for security reasons," Burton said. "But he's renting a house."

(The Obamas travel to Martha's Vineyard in 2009)

The symbolism of a presidential vacation on a ritzy, upscale island -- and renting a fancy, expensive house that can shield him from gawkers -- is not ideal for the administration, given the economic distress that many still feel.

But Obama weathered those criticisms last year, at a time when the economy was on even shakier ground. Asked about the issue again this week, Burton dismissed it as a question that most people won't even consider.

"I don't think there's an American person who doesn't know that the president is working hard to do everything possible to get this economy back on the right track, to move initiatives through Congress that are going to help businesses right away to create jobs and to make our economy even stronger," Burton said.

He also noted that the president will be accompanied by a skeleton staff that will still be briefing him every day. Among those traveling are homeland security adviser John Brennan and National Security Council chief of staff Denis McDonough.

And Burton joked that Obama will be "recharging his batteries," a funny notion given the president's frequent trips this year to promote car battery factories and, by extension, green-technology jobs.

"As you know, he's really into batteries," Burton deadpanned.

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