History will record that on the 12th day of his latest Hawaiian vacation, President Obama tweeted about Obamacare.
That was one of the president’s few visible acts of official business during his 16-day holiday retreat before he and his family return to Washington on Sunday. The president’s winter recess has rivaled just about anyone’s dream getaway, filled with endless golf, dinners at high-end restaurants, snorkeling at a closed nature preserve and a private, after-hours visit to a spectacular zoo.
The president’s aides say he is always on the job, even in the Pacific paradise. Mr. Obama has received daily presidential briefings complete with the “threat matrix” — secret guidance culled from intelligence agencies about hot spots around the world.
The president also issued a statement about ailing former first lady Barbara Bush, took part in a conference call about Sudan, signed a handful of bills, called senators about a contentious bill and received updates on terrorist attacks in Russia.
Otherwise, the trip has been an unbroken stretch of luxurious living for the president with his family at a beach house in trendy Kailua, an oceanfront neighborhood in Oahu where the homes rent for $3,500 per day — more than many families earn in a month. The Obamas are paying for the $56,000 cost of the rental home, although taxpayers foot the bill for the first family’s travel on Air Force One — which, at more than $180,000 per hour, makes for a couple of million-dollar flights.
What’s more, hundreds of federal workers — from White House staffers to the Secret Service security detail needed to protect the Obamas — join in for what turns out to be an all-expenses-paid vacation. According to watchdog.org, the government rented at least seven homes in the area, costing taxpayers more than $183,750 of what the organization says will likely be a $4 million bill.
With Congress approving a two-year budget deal before Christmas, this year’s Hawaiian vacation has been far more tranquil than in 2012, when the president flew to Washington the day after Christmas to negotiate with congressional Republicans about preventing a “fiscal cliff.” That trip cost taxpayers at least $7.2 million, watchdog.org said.
On Thursday, Mr. Obama played golf with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, Mr. Key’s teenage son Max and White House aide Marvin Nicholson at the Marine Corps base at Kaneohe Klipper Golf Course, rated as one of the world’s best military golf courses. Mr. Key, who is five days younger than the American president and also was elected in 2008, owns a home in Hawaii.
It was Mr. Obama’s seventh round on the links since arriving in Hawaii early Dec. 21. He has added to that eight gym workouts so far — more than he did when the family summered in tony Martha’s Vineyard, where they often dine at the “Sweet Life Cafe.”
The Obamas also have taken two family hikes, two beach trips and a jaunt to Hanauma Bay Nature Preserves, where they snorkeled with parrotfish and green sea turtles. The preserve, normally teeming with tourists, was closed to the public when the Obamas visited. They also had the Honolulu Zoo all to themselves for a visit on Thursday.
The first couple has met with U.S. troops once, but have not found time to attend church services, even for Christmas.
Reporters and photographers for news organizations that are spending tens of thousands of dollars to “cover” Mr. Obama’s vacation have been kept at a distance and frequently fail to catch even a glimpse of the president on his excursions.
But the media, which were feuding with White House press officials in Washington about access to the president, were allowed to watch Mr. Obama go out with his daughters and other family and friends for shaved ice at a shopping center on New Year’s Eve.
And during the golf outing Thursday, White House handlers brought pool reporters to the second green at the Kaneohe course to watch the president and his playing partners putt. Mr. Obama putted from just off the green and left his ball well short of the hole.
“I guess I should have chipped it, after all,” the president said.
As Mr. Obama well knows, the decisions will get tougher again next week.