Midway through a vacation in his native state of Hawaii, President Obama is managing to relax by playing lots of golf, working out at a local gym, spending time with his family on the beach and visiting friends. But he is also making sure that Americans know he is still on the job.
Critics have mocked Obama for the cost of his 17-day holiday, which apparently will exceed $4 million, according to various sources. The government hasn't estimated the price. But it costs $180,000 per hour to operate Air Force One, and based on 9-hour flights from Washington to Hawaii and back again, this comes to more than $3.2 million for the flights alone.
This doesn't include costs for other planes to transport staff and Secret Service agents to the islands, ground transportation, lodging for members of Obama's official entourage and communication costs.
Obama has scheduled enough official activities to blunt charges that he is goofing off, which is a favorite criticism leveled against any president on vacation. He and his wife Michelle visited about 600 military personnel stationed near his vacation residence and thanked them for their service. "Michelle and I know that we would not enjoy the freedoms we do if it weren't for the incredible dedication and professionalism and work that you do," the president said. "The least we can do is just let you all know we're grateful to you."
Obama also has signed legislation while on vacation, including an important budget bill. He has received national security briefings on the violence in South Sudan, on rising turmoil in Iraq and Afghanistan, and on other trouble spots. He has had other briefings on the status of his problem-plagued health care insurance website.
Just as important in terms of creating favorable optics, White House handlers have not allowed journalists to take many photographs of Obama on vacation and he is mostly being kept away from reporters. Obama advisers say he is entitled to some privacy. But it's also likely that White House PR managers want to minimize news photographers' ability to take pictures of the president at play or his lavish rented estate, and want to keep correspondents from publicizing too many details of his vacation, which might provide fodder for his critics.
Before he left Washington on Dec. 20, a weary Obama said he was looking forward to getting some sun and some rest. He appears to be accomplishing both missions.
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 the new book "Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America's Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership." Ken Walsh can be reached at email@example.com and on Facebook and Twitter.