President Obama plans a late-afternoon return to the resort island of Martha’s Vineyard on Tuesday, heading back to vacation after a short trip to the White House for a little office face time.
Obama’s decision before vacation to schedule a two-day Oval Office visit in the middle of his trip touched off two weeks of speculation about the reason, given how unusual it is for a president to go to the White House during a personal break — at least without a time-sensitive emergency on the agenda.
President George W. Bush left his Texas ranch once to sign the “Terri Schiavo” bill, allowing the parents of a Florida woman on life support to request a federal judge to prolong her life by reinserting her feeding tube.
Bush also cut short a ranch visit to see the ravages of Hurricane Katrina, just as President Clinton once cut short a stay in Hawaii because of flooding in the Midwest.
And Obama flew back from his winter 2013 holiday in Hawaii to reach a deal with Congress averting a fiscal crisis.
But longtime watchers of the presidency can’t recall a president interrupting a vacation for no apparent reason other than to check in back in Washington. Mark Knoller, a veteran White House journalist for CBS and meticulous diarist of the executive schedule, can’t find such a thing in his logs.
To be sure, Obama’s timing seemed convenient on Monday. His presence in the West Wing meant that he could walk out to the Brady Briefing Room and, before a full room of reporters, deliver an update on the crisis in Iraq and make a plea for calm and unity amid the churn in Ferguson, Mo.
On the political side, the venue showcased the president conspicuously on the job. The on-camera time spoke for itself. No one on the White House staff pointed it out.
Rather, aides to the president noted that Obama could have made his statement from his vacation home. The home is outfitted for secure communications with his staff and accessible to a traveling press corps that could come over with 15 minutes' notice of a presidential address.
“Honestly, he just felt that he wanted a check-in,” said one advisor.
After meetings with Vice President Joe Biden, Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr., his National Security Council and top economic advisors, Obama expects to be fully checked in.
His schedule calls for him to be back in Massachusetts by dinnertime.
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