The Washington Post

President will still be president, aides say — just in Fla.


President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama make their way from Marine One upon arrival at Key Largo, Fla., on March 7. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

No matter what’s going on in the world — or where in the world he happens to be — President Obama never stops being president, his aides say.

So on Friday, a week into a tense international standoff half a world away, Obama loaded his aides and his family aboard Air Force One, left chilly Washington and arrived here in sunny South Florida for a weekend getaway at the exclusive Ocean Reef resort .

There were golf courses, tennis courts, pools and immaculate beach fronts.

There was also, White House spokesman Josh Earnest assured reporters, the “regular assortment of communication tools” that would allow Obama to hold national security briefings with deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken, who was among the traveling entourage.

“We have complete confidence the president can handle all the responsibilities he has,” Earnest said aboard Air Force One. Which was good, considering Vice President Biden, Secretary of State John F. Kerry and national security adviser Susan E. Rice also are out of town this weekend.

Aides said Obama called Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel during the trip to discuss the international response to Russia’s military invasion of Crimea in Ukraine.

The decision of the first family — the president and first lady Michelle Obama were joined by daughters Malia and Sasha — to spend two personal days outside Washington was not made without some trepidation. Throughout the week, as Obama spoke by phone twice with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin, along with the leaders of Britain, Germany and Japan, White House officials acknowledged that the president’s travel schedule was in flux — subject to changes depending on world events.

That has become routine for a president whose annual Christmas vacation to Hawaii was delayed three consecutive years over contentious negotiations with Congress. His summer getaway to Martha’s Vineyard in 2011 was cut short by Hurricane Irene advancing up the East Coast.

In 2012, Obama bagged his summer trip during the stretch run of his reelection campaign.

This week, however, he decided to follow through on the weekend trip, which included a stop Friday at Coral Reef Senior High School in Miami, where the president and the first lady chatted with students in a classroom before Obama spoke to an enthusiastic crowd of 1,650 in the gymnasium about his administration’s investments in education initiatives.

But that stop was no more than an hour, and then the first couple, boarding Marine One on a playing field behind the school building, were off on a 20-minute­ flight to Key Largo that a pool reporter described as a “sun-kissed helicopter ride reminiscent of the opening credits of ‘Miami Vice.’ ”

Except perhaps even better: The temperature was in the mid-70s, the sun was blindingly low in the sky, and men and women in resort-wear and golf outfits, and one woman in a bikini, cheered as Obama and his entourage touched down on the Ocean Reef’s private landing strip next to the golf course.

“What the president will be doing this weekend in Florida is essentially what the president would be doing back at the White House. It’s just that the weather will be a little warmer,” Earnest said.

Earnest explained that Obama had managed to keep a busy schedule this week — rolling out his 2015 budget request Tuesday, touting his minimum-wage push in Hartford, Conn., on Wednesday and pitching the Affordable Care Act at the Newseum on Thursday — even while dealing with the Ukraine crisis.

So why couldn’t he juggle both his duties as the nation’s commander in chief and his duties as First Dad, the spokesman asked.

“The president is looking forward to spending some time with his wife and daughters, who are traveling down to Florida, as well,” he said. “If there is an opportunity for the president to enjoy some of those amenities, then he’ll do that.”

David Nakamura covers the White House. He has previously covered sports, education and city government and reported from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Japan.

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