CHILMARK, Mass. — President Obama and his family began a weeklong vacation on this Massachusetts island with a message to the reporters who have crowded the New England villages: Chill out and don’t expect much.
Pleading for privacy, the White House said Obama would have no public events while vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard with his family and close friends. Aides also asked that the journalists not take pictures of the Obamas’ two young daughters, age 8 and 11, when they aren’t with the president.
“He wants you to relax and have a good time. Take some walks on the beaches. Nobody’s looking to make any news,” spokesman Bill Burton told reporters flying with the Obamas from Washington to Massachusetts.
The White House said there is no formal schedule while the Obamas are on the island, although the president will receive a daily briefing in person from a National Security Council official. He will receive an economic briefing through memos, and the secluded 28-acre private estate has a secure line to the White House if a situation develops.
Work doesn’t stop while the president is on vacation. Senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, a close friend and counselor to the president, joined the flight aboard Air Force One. Other midlevel aides were on the island to assist the president if needed, a reminder the presidency does not allow for complete breaks from the job.
There were, however, other friendly faces for Obama. His sister, Maya, flew with the Obamas from Washington, as did first pooch Bo, who wandered through the press cabin during the flight. Chicago physician Eric Whitaker, a friend to the Obamas, planned to meet the family on the island.
The White House said there are no plans for Obama to visit ailing Sen. Edward M. Kennedy at his vacation home in Hyannis Port on Cape Cod. A visit with Kennedy, who has brain cancer, could provide a rallying point for Democrats as Obama seeks to achieve one of Kennedy’s career goals: overhauling the nation’s health insurance system to provide near-universal coverage.
Instead, aides said there might be trips for ice cream and salt-water taffy, possibly a bike ride and plenty of quiet time at the compound that rents for $35,000 a week. The Obamas are paying for their share of the vacation home; taxpayers are picking up the tab for security and White House staff, which is customary for all presidents.
“You can bet there’s going to be some golf playing. Maybe a little bit of swimming,” Burton said.
Departing Washington for Cape Cod, Obama left behind a tie and jacket in favor of khakis and a button-down shirt. Michelle Obama opted for a casual skirt — not the shorts that drew criticism when she wore them to the Grand Canyon.
The first family dodged a potential setback; Hurricane Bill blew out in time for the Obamas’ first vacation since taking office. The first family began their vacation Sunday just hours after the National Hurricane Center lifted a tropical storm warning that had included the small island off the Massachusetts coast.
The playground for the rich was a vacation spot for former presidents Bill Clinton and Ulysses S. Grant. Obama has visited twice before. More typically he has vacationed in Hawaii, where he was born and spent time as a child.
Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton were island regulars through the highs and lows of Clinton’s presidency. On their first presidential vacation there in 1993, they were photographed happily sailing, golfing and exploring the island’s restaurants and scenery together.
Five years later, it was a different story. The Clintons headed for the island just hours after the president publicly confessed to an inappropriate relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.