President Obama Holds Mysterious Meeting at Camp David

As poll numbers slide, Obama retreats to Camp David with undisclosed officials.

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(Susan Walsh/AP)
President Barack Obama walks from the Oval Office to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Friday, July 26, 2013. Obama is spending the day at Camp David with members of his cabinet and their families.

Presidents often use Camp David, their official retreat in the Maryland mountains to think deep thoughts, confer with senior advisers on important issues, and occasionally negotiate international agreements with other world leaders.

This is apparently the pattern that President Obama is following with his retreat at Camp David Friday. It's all more than a bit mysterious, since White House officials didn't announce the private retreat until the eve of the event, and they didn't disclose who was attending, other than to say it would include cabinet members and some of their family.

Obama hasn't used Camp David nearly as often as some of his predecessors, including Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. His friends say Obama prefers the urban setting of Washington to the rural environment of what White House officials have traditionally called "Camp."

[READ: Obama Loses Steam Post Election]

But Obama has found uses for the leafy compound. He met there with cabinet members and their families just before the 2010 mid-term elections, when Democrats suffered big losses.

This time, the meeting could serve as a combined pep rally and bonding session. Obama is experiencing a decline in his job approval ratings and his administration is bracing for some big fights with congressional Republicans this fall over issues ranging from the budget and a possible government shutdown to immigration and climate change.

Camp David has an important history, both positive and negative. Jimmy Carter used the compound to hold a series of private meetings with his staff and outside advisers as he tried to halt his skid in the polls. It didn't work as Carter looked like he was floundering.

But Carter did much better when he hosted the leaders of Egypt and Israel at Camp David and succeeded in negotiating a landmark peace agreement. Carter said the cloistered atmosphere of Camp David enabled everyone to focus on their agenda and not experience distractions or play to the media.

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  • Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com and "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He is the author of "Prisoners of the White House," a new book published by Paradigm Publishers. He can be reached at kwalsh@usnews.com and on Facebook and Twitter.