***UPDATED with 11/28/09 Washington Post Excerpt 11:00pm
Many are asking why President Obama has not stepped in front of cameras he has become so accustomed to and personally address the nation regarding Friday’s foiled attack on Northwest Flight 253 en route from Amsterdam to Detroit. Surely a president would want the nation to know what his direct thoughts are when a terrorist suspect like London-based Nigerian national Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab allegedly tries to ignite a bomb on an airplane bound for the United States.
However, Mr. Obama has left all statements on the matter to those like Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, and Deputy White House Press Secretary Bill Burton. In the meantime, Mr. Obama continues his vacation in Hawaii. Immediately following the attempted terrorist attack, Mr. Burton did release a statement to the press.:
“The President was notified of the incident this morning between 9:00 and 9:30 Hawaii time by the President’s military aide. The President subsequently convened a secure conference call with John Brennan, his Homeland Security and Counter-terrorism Adviser, and Denis McDonough, NSS Chief of Staff.
“He asked to arrange a subsequent secure call and in that call instructed that all appropriate measures be taken to increase security for air travel. The President is actively monitoring the situation and receiving regular updates. There is currently no change to his schedule.”
Fox News has reported that the terror alert levels for international and domestic flights remain at orange. Rep.Peter King (R-NY) along with Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R - MI) was not only critical of Ms. Napolitano for saying, “the system worked,” but also of the president for not being more present in the situation. Mr. King said,:
“It’s important for the president or the secretary to be more out there and reminding people just how real this threat was and how deadly it is,” Mr. King explained. “For the first three months of this administration, they refused to use the word ‘terrorism’.”
“The secretary or the vice president or the attorney general should be out there reminding the American people that this shows how deadly this enemy is, this shows how real this threat is, and how we have to do whatever we can to protect the American people.”
However, defenders of the president, managed to start spinning out reasons for Mr. Obama’s preference to play golf and work out at the gym over doing a press conference regarding flight 253. How does the left leaning Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder explain it? He says “strategy.”:
In fact, he’s been golfing. He received a counterterrorism briefing early this morning, Hawaii time, and moments later, left for the gym. The president’s vacation activities might have become the subject of a fierce partisan fight — but really, the only carping is coming from the usual suspects on the right. There is a reason why Obama hasn’t given a public statement. It’s strategy.
The New York Times reminds readers that the president takes an enormous staff with him wherever he goes, so he can work from any location. Interestingly, many outlets like the New York Times highlighted the criticism President Bush received over the amount of time he would spend at his vacation home in Texas. Now, The New York Times writes more of a defense of the Hawaiian vacation in the midst after the foiled attack.:
The foiled attack on a jet bound for Detroit served as a reminder, in case one was needed, that a president can never completely check out of the day job, particularly in the post-Sept. 11 era. The federal government moves vast quantities of staff and equipment to make sure that a president can do the job anywhere.
While The New York Times points out that the second President Bush was criticized the most over his vacation time than any other U.S. President, the description of other presidents’ vacations seem like an attempt to make Mr.Obama’s current handling of circumstances appear not so abnormal.
CBS News headlines the issue as, News Interrupts Obama’s Hawaii Vacation. A funny headline, because it sounds as if world events are becoming an imposition on Mr. Obama’s time. The piece itself tries to explain how the president manages to play basketball and golf, explore the island, and “constantly” monitor the latest in the terrorist investigation.:
The vacation continues, even though he is getting daily intelligence briefings and the White House says he is constantly monitoring the latest with the investigation into the attempted terrorist attack.
One of his basketball partners today was his national security chief of staff, so you could say that even while relaxing, he’s always close to his top aides.
CBS’s tone with President Bush’s vacations, however, was quite different. During the closing days of the Bush presidency, CBS wrapped up his vacations like this.:
Yes, that’s 487 days. And Camp David is not even where the president has spent the most time when not at the White House: Knoller reports that Mr. Bush has made 77 visits to his ranch in Crawford during his presidency, and spent all or part of 490 days there.
The current strategy from the White House is especially odd considering the issues the president did make an effort to address. Remember the Cambridge Cop Mr. Obama excoriated for “acting stupidly” on national TV this summer? The Chicago Sun Times columnist Lynn Sweet points out (H/T TWT’s Amanda Carpenter) that the White House blog has made no mention of the terror attack.
Finally, The Washington Post headline says, Obama addresses airline security in low-key fashion. Here’s how WaPo describes Mr. Obama’s being on the job while vacationing in Hawaii.:
Many of the new security measures are not being announced, and the administration’s decision to review its various watch lists does not appear to have set off alarm bells. “I think it is too early to draw any conclusions — and I hope there is no short-term, knee-jerk reaction,” said Tom Parker, policy director for terrorism, counterterrorism and human rights at Amnesty International.
Obama is used to explaining policy himself. But so far in Hawaii, the Christmas Day incident has not required a presidential appearance or Obama’s rhetorical skills.
Instead, after going to the gym and playing basketball with a small group — including friends and staff — Obama took his family and friends to a Marine Corps base beach that had been closed for the presidential entourage.
His aides noted another important balance Obama is trying to strike: between work and play, his job as president and his family, his public profile and a personal retreat that has been almost completely private for four full days.
Apparently hanging out in Hawaii is more important to reporters who hated Crawford, Texas trips with former President Bush than reporting the importance of a presidential response on a terror matter, so Mr. Obama’s avoiding them is not something they are likely to take too personally.