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Obama visits troops during low-key Christmas in Hawaii

The president relaxes with family and friends on Oahu, well out of media range.

December 25, 2010|By Michael A. Memoli, Washington Bureau

Reporting from Honolulu — President Obama enjoyed a quiet Christmas with his family and friends in Hawaii, visiting with service members at a military base and taking in some NBA basketball on the third full day of what has been a low-key visit to his home state.

As he has during past visits, Obama made the short trip from his rental home in Kailua to the Marine Corps Base Hawaii.

The president and first lady used the weekly video address to encourage Americans to show support for the military this holiday season.

"America's brave servicemen and -women represent a small fraction of our population. But they and the families who await their safe return carry far more than their fair share of the burden," Obama said. "Let's all remind them this holiday season that we're thinking of them — and that America will forever be here for them, just as they've been there for us."

The visit to the Marine base came just after the end of the Lakers-Heat basketball game, one of several the president took in Saturday morning, an aide said.

According to the White House, the first family was set to enjoy a decidedly un-Hawaiian Christmas dinner: steak, roasted potatoes and green beans, with pie for dessert.

Through Saturday, the president had made no public appearances after his arrival late Wednesday night. He spent Thursday on the golf course — his first round of 18 in two months. Friday, he took his daughters to a beach that, like the golf course, is on the grounds of the Marine Corps Base Hawaii on Kaneohe Bay.

Disappointing some Hawaiians eager to see the president, Obama hasn't ventured beyond the secure perimeter around his vacation rental, or the military base where the media face constraints on what images they can capture.

It's a working vacation for the president, aides are sure to point out. Obama is receiving a daily intelligence briefing, and he also phoned Russian President Dmitri Medvedev on Thursday to discuss ratification of the New START nuclear-arms treaty, one of several accomplishments from the productive lame-duck session of Congress that delayed his trip.

He's also catching up on his reading, with Lou Cannon's "President Reagan: Role of a Lifetime" among his selections for the holiday.

The subdued itinerary comes at the end of a chaotic year that began with a terrorist's attempt to bring down a transatlantic jet on Christmas Day 2009.

First Lady Michelle Obama and daughters, who have been on the island since Dec. 18, have also largely been out of the public eye. She did field phone calls on Friday from youngsters who called NORAD eager to know the whereabouts of Santa Claus.

"Oh, my goodness. They spotted a glowing object. It looks like he's — he's flying over Austria right now!" she excitedly told callers Savanna and Alexis.

Friends of the Obamas have said that Hawaiians, though excited about the president's visit, understand he needs to use his time here to recharge.

"We're all on call," said former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, when asked whether he and other local friends would spend time with the president this week. "We know that he needs his time, he needs his space, he needs to spend time with his kids and his wife and family."

In past visits, Obama has ventured out to spots like Halona Point, a scenic location on Oahu's southeastern tip where his mother's ashes were spread, and dined at the upscale Allen Wong's restaurant. The staff at Island Snow, an east shore beach apparel shop that sells "shave ice," is also counting on another visit.

Obama is expected to stay in Hawaii until Jan. 2. Upon his return, a new Republican majority will be seated in the House of Representatives, and his party's margin in the Senate will be slimmed to six seats. In mid-January, Obama hosts a state dinner at the White House honoring the Chinese president.

mmemoli@tribune.com

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