Skip to main content

Obama slammed for vacation, but that's nothing new

By Adam Aigner-Treworgy, CNN
  • President Obama began a scheduled 10-day vacation Thursday
  • Republicans criticized him for leaving town amid economic turmoil
  • Taking heat for vacation time is nothing new for U.S. presidents
  • The White House is sensitive to the image Obama projects while the economy struggles

Hyannis Port, Massachusetts (CNN) -- After returning late Wednesday night from a three-day bus tour of Middle America, President Obama left Washington once again Thursday afternoon -- this time for Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts and a 10-day vacation with his family.

Obama's vacation comes at a tumultuous time for the country, domestically and overseas. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down 410 points just as the president boarded Air Force One. He is set to release a new job creation proposal in early September, and a U.S.-led call from the international community for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to leave power was publicly released the morning of Obama's departure.

The president's critics are seizing upon these events to argue that this is no time for a vacation. While campaigning in early primary states this week, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney used Obama's vacation to suggest that maybe he's just giving up.

"I wish the president were in Washington calling back Congress and dealing with the challenges we have," Romney said at an event in Litchfield, New Hampshire, on Monday. "I don't know that he has a strategy now or whether he's basically throwing up his hands and is just hoping things'll get better."

Why your brain needs a vacation

Should the president go on vacation?

The president directly addressed this line of attack at a town hall meeting in Cannon Falls, Minnesota, on Monday.

"I don't think it's going to make people feel real encouraged if we have Congress come back and all they're doing is arguing again," Obama said at the first stop on his Midwest bus tour. "They need to go back to their districts, talk to ordinary folks, find out how frustrated they are and, hopefully, when they get back in September, they're going to have a new attitude."

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus picked a somewhat different line of attack on CNN's "American Morning" on Friday.

"There isn't anything wrong with going on vacation," Priebus said. "But the problem with this president is that he is tone deaf to the American people and what people expect out of a president in tough times, and I think everyone can admit we are in an extremely, extraordinarily difficult time in this country, and we have a president who just doesn't seem to connect the dots."

Why we can't unplug on vacation

Sarah Palin, the 2008 GOP vice presidential candidate and former Alaska governor, called Obama "tone deaf" on Fox News on Thursday. She predicted that he "will hear from enough Americans that he will come back early."

Taking heat for vacation time is nothing new for U.S. presidents. Ronald Reagan spent nearly one year of his eight years in office on vacation Video and was criticized for the cost and frequency of his travels.

George W. Bush spent more time out of Washington than any president since Reagan, and as a result, critics used images of Bush at his ranch in Texas throughout his 2004 re-election campaign in an attempt to portray him as an absentee president. And just one day after admitting to an affair with Monica Lewinsky in August 1998, Bill Clinton took heat for retreating to Martha's Vineyard Video for a family vacation.

Despite the routine nature of this type of criticism, the Obama White House is nonetheless sensitive to possible scenes of the president golfing or lounging on the beach while the U.S. economy is struggling. So on Friday, the White House released a rather stern-looking photo of Obama receiving a briefing from top counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, who traveled with him to Martha's Vineyard on Thursday.

Members of the president's communications team have also been reminding the media for weeks that Obama is working wherever he is.

"There's no such thing as a presidential vacation," White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a briefing last week. "The presidency travels with you. He will be in constant communication and get regular briefings from his national security team, as well as his economic team, and he will, of course, be fully capable, if necessary, of traveling back if that were required."

Deputy press secretary Josh Earnest reiterated that point Thursday on Air Force One, telling reporters that "the deputy director of the National Economic Council will be traveling to Martha's Vineyard and will spend the week there next week" briefing the president, and Brennan "is going to be in Martha's Vineyard for the duration of the president's time there."

"The president understands that he has important responsibilities to fill, and it's his job to fill those responsibilities 24 hours a day, 365 days a year," Earnest said. "At the same time, he's also a husband and a father, and I don't think that the American people begrudge the president spending a little time with his wife and daughters at the end of the summer before his daughters head back to school."

Regardless of whether Americans begrudge the president's vacation, the constant flow of criticism from his political opponents is likely to continue until Obama's scheduled return on August 27 -- a little more than a week before Congress returns from its August recess.