Obama begins Massachusetts vacation after bumpy week

The president goes to Martha's Vineyard for a 10-day break after a multistate fundraising blitz and an uproar over the New York mosque plan.

August 20, 2010|By Peter Nicholas, Tribune Washington Bureau

Reporting from Vineyard Haven — A sign hanging in front of a hotel here reads: "Anyone who has passed healthcare reform, signed economic stimulus bills, recast America's global image … [and] won the Nobel Peace Prize … deserves a great vacation."

President Obama is certainly ready for one.

He began a 10-day break on this tony island Thursday after a multistate fundraising blitz and an uproar over the right to build a mosque two blocks from the site of the former World Trade Center in New York.

Despite the cheery view of the hotel staff, Obama is racking up some of the worst approval ratings of his presidency, amid a new report Thursday showing that jobless claims rose to the highest levels in the last nine months.

Talking to reporters on Air Force One en route from Washington, White House spokesman Bill Burton said the trip was a chance for Obama to "rest and recharge the batteries a little bit."

This is the spot for that sort of thing. The first family is staying at Blue Heron Farm, a 28.5-acre estate in Chilmark, Mass., as it did last summer.

The property, which sold for more than $20 million five years ago, sports apple orchards, horse paddocks, a swimming pool and boating on Tisbury Great Pond. Local real estate agent Caroline Taylor estimated that the estate rents for $50,000 a week. On such trips, the Obamas foot the bill for "personal costs," Burton said, including the rental fee.

Obama has the whole family with him. Daughter Malia is back from summer camp, and dog Bo was spotted on Air Force One, wandering back to the galley in search of food.

It won't be all sun and fun. John Brennan, the White House counter-terrorism advisor, is here too.

"The president is connected to the White House the whole time he's on vacation. It's not a pure getaway," Doug Hattaway, a former campaign aide to Hillary Rodham Clinton and Al Gore, said in an interview.

"You can't turn every vacation into a photo op. It's very important that the president, whoever it is, gets time to relax," Hattaway said.

For Obama, the vineyard has special allure. He visited as a candidate for president and returned last August. That trip was interrupted by the death of Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, whose endorsement in the 2008 presidential campaign gave Obama a major boost. Obama left to deliver the eulogy in Boston.

The last few weeks have been painful for the president. He explained, then clarified, then reiterated his remarks about the Manhattan Islamic community center. None of it seemed to strengthen his appeal.

A Gallup survey released Thursday showed Obama's approval rating at 41%, a historic low, and his disapproval rating at 52%, a high. The survey was taken over a three-day period ending Wednesday, as the mosque controversy escalated.

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