Maybe the thought of not seeing Vice President Joseph R. Biden for two whole weeks was more than President Obama could bear.
Whatever the real reason for Mr. Obama’s 40-hour visit to Washington in the midst of his summer vacation, the president returned to Martha’s Vineyard on Tuesday afternoon, leaving behind unresolved emergencies and observers scratching their heads about his jaunt.
Nothing on the president’s schedule Tuesday seemed to provide cause for the president’s quick turnaround trip. Mr. Obama met with Mr. Biden at the White House on Tuesday morning to receive the routine, daily intelligence briefing, and later in the day both men met with the president’s economic team and his senior advisers.
Similarly, on Monday the president met at the White House with his national security team about Iraq, and then conferred with Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. about the civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, and held a brief press conference on both subjects.
But those issues had arisen after the White House announced that Mr. Obama would be interrupting his vacation, so neither emergency appeared by itself to be the reason for coming back to Washington, either.
The White House said Mr. Obama received “an update on the state of the economy” from Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, Office of Management and Budget director Shaun Donovan and others. It looked to some like a response to criticism over the president’s originally scheduled two-week vacation.
“President Obama came back to Washington for photo-ops and really nothing more but for the optics of handling our country’s business,” said Republican strategist Ron Bonjean. “He’ll be back to playing golf soon enough before August is over.”
White House aides had warned the media that Mr. Obama wouldn’t be making any major announcements, such as an executive order to ease deportations of illegal immigrants, during his brief trip back to Washington.
With U.S. warplanes still flying missions in Iraq, and Mr. Holder heading to Missouri to take charge of the federal investigation into the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager, some observers concluded that Mr. Obama’s brief interruption of his vacation was meant to show that he’s still on the job.
“Being seen taking a vacation — biking, golfing, dancing — while both foreign and domestic affairs seem to be coming unglued isn’t likely to improve his image,” said Lara Brown, director of the political management program at George Washington University. “It is also the case that even if his public schedule does not ‘make news’ while he is Washington, he is able to have more in-depth meetings with those advisers and staff who are charged with handling these issues. In short, it looks good, but it also likely allows him to do more work than if he were still at Martha’s Vineyard.”
Journalists were so puzzled why the president had returned to Washington that they began posting notices on Twitter on Monday night when Mr. Obama headed out from the White House in a motorcade. Would his destination reveal the “real” reason for breaking up his vacation?
Not quite. The motorcade drove a few blocks to the Logan Circle home of White House chef Sam Kass, where Mr. Obama enjoyed a five-hour-long dinner with deputy chief of staff Anita Decker Breckenridge. There was no word on whether Mr. Kass’s fiancee, MSNBC host Alex Wagner, attended the dinner.
At the end of the evening, Mr. Obama returned to the White House at 11:38 p.m.
On Tuesday afternoon, holding hands with daughter Malia, Mr. Obama walked to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House and took off again for the rest of his island vacation.
• Ben Wolfgang contributed to this report.