- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 9, 2014

While Russia beefed up its forces in Ukraine and the U.S. unemployment rate ticked up slightly, President Obama was criticized for spending the weekend on vacation with his family at an ultra-exclusive private community in the Florida Keys.

Mr. Obama played two rounds of golf and luxuriated at the posh Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo, a solidly Republican enclave where members must have a minimum net worth of $35 million to join. The president, first lady Michelle Obama and their entourage traveled to and from the island in a squadron of five government helicopters, reportedly requiring a contingent of more than 50 Secret Service agents, before returning to Washington late Sunday.

Meanwhile, Vice President Joseph R. Biden and wife Jill spent the weekend in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The Republican National Committee criticized the Obamas and Bidens for their upscale getaway trips on the heels of a government report Friday showing that the unemployment rate rose in February to 6.7 percent. The Obamas combined their excursion with a stop at a high school in Miami to promote the president’s education agenda.

“Only President Obama would deliver a brief speech about education and then have the nerve to jet over to the posh Ocean Reef Clubs — an exclusive members-only resort for the wealthy — for a quick vacation,” said RNC spokesman Jahan Wilcox. “As President Obama enjoys the Florida Keys and Vice President Biden vacations in the Virgin Islands for the weekend, their economic policies are still leaving millions of middle-class Americans and young adults struggling to get by in the Obama economy.”

At the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, Newt Gingrich gave a tongue-in-cheek defense of the president’s mini-vacation in the midst of ongoing tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

SEE ALSO: Russia besieges Crimea as U.S. seeks diplomacy; Putin remains undeterred by Obama’s sanctions

“I believe he can be as ineffective in Key Largo as he was in the White House,” Mr. Gingrich quipped.

Mr. Obama did get in some work over the weekend, making several phone calls to European leaders about the crisis in Ukraine. The White House released a photograph of the president on the phone, wearing a golf shirt.

A White House aide defended Mr. Obama’s vacation, saying he could carry out all his duties in Key Largo.

“What the president will be doing this weekend in Florida is essentially what the president would be doing back at the White House,” deputy press secretary Joshua Earnest said as the Obamas arrived in Florida on Friday. He said the trip also enabled Mr. Obama to spend some time relaxing with his daughters.

The Ocean Reef Club features 36 holes of golf, a salon and spa, more than a dozen restaurants, and a 175-slip marina.

“This is a place where we can be ourselves — a place where privacy is paramount, security is assured, and family comes first,” the club’s web site boasts. “We are in a league of our own.”

SEE ALSO: U.S. deploys 12 F-16 fighter jets to Poland as exercise in response to Ukraine situation

At least two members of the club publicly expressed outrage at the Obamas’ visit, the Key West Citizen newspaper reported.

“President Obama has done nothing but degrade and punish the ‘one percent’ of Americans who have done the most for this country,” said an email to Ocean Reef Club board members signed by residents Joe and Fran Murphy. “To have a man here who hates us, who has divided America along racial lines, hates people who have been successful in life by hard work and determination is an affront to the membership. He despises what we have achieved, and would love to have the government open our gates to whomever would like to come into our lovely conservative community.”

The newspaper said some other residents of the club expressed no concerns about the president’s visit, noting that many other VIPs have stayed there in recent years.

One of Mr. Obama’s golfing partners for the weekend was sportscaster Ahmad Rashad, a former player for the Minnesota Vikings who is dating senior presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett. Mr. Rashad, 64, has been married four times, most recently to Sale Johnson, the wealthy ex-wife of Johnson & Johnson billionaire Woody Johnson. Ms. Jarrett, who accompanied the president to Key Largo, is 57.

The Federal Aviation Administration issued temporary flight restrictions over Key Largo for the weekend, meaning pilots must avoid the area. The agency wouldn’t confirm the restrictions were due to the president’s visit.

Ocean Reef’s website details its upscale attractions. It also has a section on its dress code, which deems “unacceptable attire” as follows: “Tank tops, tank-style undershirts and jogging tops for men, crop and jogging tops for women, frayed cut-offs and tattered jeans are not acceptable attire. Shirts with sleeves are required at all times in all public areas other than the pool. Thank you for your cooperation in maintaining our cultured family environment.”

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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