Obama Mulls Remaining in D.C. After Term Ends

Obamas may stay in Washington after presidential term ends; some say that's a mistake.

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President Obama says he and his family might remain Washington residents after his term ends in January 2017, highlighting an enduring question in U.S. history: What should former presidents do?

In an interview with ABC News, the president and first lady Michelle Obama said they may continue to live in Washington so their younger daughter, Sasha, a 12-year-old seventh-grader, can keep her friends and graduate from Sidwell Friends School as scheduled, more than two years after his term ends.

"We've got to make sure that she's doing well ... until she goes off to college," Obama said. "Sasha will have a big say in where we are." (Daughter Malia is a 15-year-old high school sophomore who is expected to be in college before Obama's term ends.)


This concern with uprooting a child is understandable for any parent. But it's also no small irony because Obama has regularly talked about how good it feels to get out of Washington and escape, however briefly, its obsession with politics, partisanship and posturing. Other presidents have expressed similar sentiments, including Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks about immigration reform, Nov. 25, 2013, at the Betty Ann Ong Chinese Recreation Center in San Francisco.
In a series of recent speeches, President Obama has come up with a renewed manifesto, portraying himself as a pragmatic leader while billing the GOP in Congress as hopelessly outside the mainstream.

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Some argue that it would be a mistake for Obama to remain in the capital. Stephen Hess, a presidential scholar at the Brookings Institution, told The Washington Post that staying in town would be a "terrible idea, and I can't imagine it will last very long. Once you're in Washington you are somehow connected to every problem that your [successor] is going to be confronting.

"And you will be asked to say something each time your name comes up, given that you will have reporters camping out on your doorstep."

All this raises questions about what Obama would do in his post-presidency. His friends say he could return to teaching, which he did in his hometown of Chicago, where he still owns a home. And he would probably write a book about his time in office. He would also get heavily involved in charity work, his friends say.

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Other former presidents have handled their political "retirement" differently. George W. Bush moved back to Texas, where he had been governor, and has remained mostly out of sight. Bill Clinton moved to New York, which his wife was serving as a U.S. senator at the time, and he has been very active in public affairs and politics. But there is no institutional role for former presidents, even though each of them has a set of skills, a knowledge of issues and insights into other leaders that an incumbent president would probably find useful.

Woodrow Wilson was the last president to remain in Washington after his presidency. He was incapacitated by a stroke while he was in office and died at his home in the northwestern D.C. in 1924. Wilson left the presidency in 1921.

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  • Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He is the author of the new book "Prisoners of the White House. He can be reached at kwalsh@usnews.com and followed on Facebook and Twitter.