The White House just announced that President Obama will fly to Honolulu this afternoon to join wife Michelle and their two daughters for their traditional holiday vacation in Hawaii.
He was originally scheduled to leave on December 17, nearly a week ago, but decided to stay in Washington to make sure Congress passed legislation to extend the current payroll tax into next year and to continue long-term unemployment benefits. That legislation passed this morning after a long struggle, freeing the president to make his annual trip to Hawaii, where he was born and raised.
This year, he may not have to contend with the huge amount of sharp-edged criticism that he has faced before and that other presidents have experienced when they left Washington on holiday. The critics generally leap on such vacations as examples of presidential insensitivity toward those who are suffering economic hardship during a downturn or toward American soldiers in wartime. Presidents also create PR problems for themselves when they vacation very visibly at posh locations or expensive venues--and Obama's rented estate in Honolulu qualifies on both counts.
But Obama is dealing with a somewhat different dynamic this time. He did remain in Washington during the payroll-tax furor, showing his commitment to getting things done. And he is emerging from the showdown with a strengthened hand, since he forced House Republicans to back down and accept a Senate-White House compromise. In addition, Obama knows not to flaunt his surroundings, so there will be few photographs allowed of him on the golf course or frolicking in the surf.
There will be criticism of Obama's Hawaii jaunt, as usual, but it will probably be more muted this time. He is planning to return to Washington in early January.