The end of the President’s summer vacation leads to some abrupt compromises. The beach for budget battles. Pilates for politics. Sunshine for Special Advisors.
As President Joe Biden drove home from Lake Tahoe on Saturday, he traded a week of waterfront seclusion for the more mundane reality of running the country from Washington.
Like many presidents, Biden spent much of August outside the White House, trading the capital’s sweltering heat for the beach or mountains. He rode his bike, he saw a movie at the cinema, he went to dinner with his wife, he did Pilates with his grandchildren.
“It’s great,” Biden said this week of his picturesque destination, whose sea air is scented with pine trees.
Work has haunted him, of course: a devastating Maui wildfire, West Coast flooding, the suspected death of a Russian mercenary leader, the first Republican primary debate, an unfolding Ukraine spending battle, a surge in Covid cases, and more mass shootings — including one on Saturday in Jacksonville, Fla., that claimed multiple lives — and the fourth indictment and arrest of his predecessor and most likely rival for the presidency.
Biden kept himself abreast of these issues through phone calls, briefings, television news reports and, in the case of the Hawaii fires, an on-site visit lasting about 10 hours by plane.
Still, his schedule for the last month tells the story of a president desperate to flee DC.
Of the first 26 days of August, Biden spent only one full day in the White House. For eight of those days, Biden headlined official events, including visits to four states to present his economic agenda, a summit at Camp David, and a visit to Hawaii to assess the damage caused by the fire. He also hosted White House events recognizing his legislative accomplishments.
He spent the rest of his time between his two Delaware homes, in Wilmington and Rehoboth Beach, and the lakefront home he rented on Lake Tahoe, where he was cared for by First Lady Jill Biden and members of his extended family, including son Hunter and daughter , accompanied by Ashley, several of his grandchildren and a dog.
Within the Glenbrook port community, Biden’s unofficial activities were protected from the public eye. The neighborhood is one of the most expensive in the country and prying eyes have been kept away by a guard hut and gates. The area has its own private beach and a 9-hole golf course.
The White House has detailed some of the presidential responsibilities that Biden has assumed. He received almost daily updates from federal emergency officials about the wildfires and floods that were devastating parts of the country. He spoke to his national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, over the phone. On Thursday he called President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to mark Ukraine’s Independence Day and to discuss training Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets.
The Bidens lived in a home owned by billionaire climate investor Tom Steyer, who briefly ran against Biden for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. The White House said the President and First Lady rented the property at “fair market value”; A website in the area said a four-bedroom property in the community rents $12,000 a week.
Summer vacations are commonplace for presidents, even for those who claim they never take them. In August 2017, then-President Donald Trump spent 17 days at his golf course in New Jersey. President Barack Obama regularly spent two weeks on Martha’s Vineyard each summer.
The holidays are usually accompanied by criticism. For Biden, the worst of the attacks came after the Maui fires. Though he was quick to sign an emergency declaration and lobbied for the deployment of federal resources, a “no comment” when asked about the beach death toll sparked days of Republican backlash. (The White House later said Biden could not hear the question.)
Aside from the chance to take in the water views and breathe the mountain air, an August escape also affords White House staffers the opportunity to undertake projects that would be impossible during the President’s residency. This year the driveway was repaved.
Biden actually left his forested Tahoe enclave four times: to attend church for a day-long visit to Hawaii, and twice to take his family to a Pilates class at a mall 20 minutes away.
Some onlookers near the Pelodog Pilates and Spin studio were incredulous that the President of the United States was doing roll-ups and one-leg stretches inside. At one point, a man began singing “God Bless the USA” through a karaoke machine.
As Biden left the Pilates studio Wednesday in a quarter-zip sweater and a banana-blueberry smoothie, he stopped to answer a few questions. Did he believe that Russian President Vladimir Putin was behind the downing of a plane believed to be carrying Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin?
“There’s not much happening in Russia that Putin isn’t behind, but I don’t know enough to know the answer,” he said. “I’ve been training for the last hour and a half.”
That evening, Biden watched about 80 minutes of the first Republican primary debate in his apartment building – “I got the gist,” he said a day later. As Trump surrendered in the Fulton County jail Thursday, Biden caught a glimpse of the former president’s mug shot on television: “Handsome guy,” he quipped, a rare nod to his predecessor’s legal sagas.
On his penultimate day here, Biden’s attention had turned to the myriad problems that awaited him upon his return to Washington. He told reporters he was “concerned” about a possible strike by American autoworkers and announced that he had agreed to a proposal to seek additional funding from Congress for new Covid vaccines.
He expressed confidence that a plan is in place to link a request for new funds for Ukraine with much-needed disaster relief funds – an indication that a protracted spending battle is ahead.
And although two special counsel are currently dealing with issues related to Biden and his family — one examining classified documents found in Biden’s personal office and home, and the other investigating his son Hunter — the president hinted on Friday that he wasn’t about to be interviewed Documents are important.
“There is no such request and no such interest,” he said.
Whether Biden will take a similar vacation next summer remains to be seen. If the presidential election goes into the final round, he might decide to forgo an August vacation like Obama did in 2012.
That decision is still a year away. Meanwhile, Biden plans to return to Rehoboth Beach next weekend.