WASHINGTON – Wilmington? No, the beach. Make that Camp David, actually. Or maybe just the White House after all?
President Joe Biden’s vacation plans, like those of so many Americans during this national summer of uncertainty, keep changing. But while concerns about the resurgence of the coronavirus have caused Biden’s plans to shift, the biggest complicating factor was the world’s greatest deliberating body’s commitment to, well, deliberation.
The president had hoped to begin his two-week summer vacation this week but, at the same time, wanted to be in Washington to tout the Senate’s passage of his bipartisan infrastructure bill, a foundational piece of Biden’s agenda. As negotiations dragged on last week, Biden decamped for his Wilmington, Delaware, home for the weekend, with officials planning a Sunday night return to mark the bill’s passage.
But the talks in the Senate continued. And continued some more. And therefore, Biden’s return was delayed until Monday, and then once more until Tuesday, when he did travel back to the White House to take a victory lap on the passage of the $1 trillion infrastructure bill.
The shifting schedule, which changed by the day, upended the plans of aides and reporters alike, many of whom were forced to hurriedly extend hotel stays and purchase an extra set of clothes. But the fate of the bill, and Biden’s own penchant to change his mind, have not been the only wrenches in the summer vacation plans.
Mindful of the pandemic, as well as the resulting economic hardship suffered by many Americans, Biden aides have long planned for the president’s vacation to be modest. They also stressed that while a president is never truly off duty, most commanders-in-chief tend to change their surroundings when the August heat and humidity rise and Washington empties out.
Earlier this summer, when the virus seemed in remission ahead of the emergence of the highly contagious delta variant, there had been preliminary discussion of the president visiting some U.S. National Parks as an effort to celebrate the nation’s heritage and gently encourage Americans to safely travel, according to aides.
But the most obvious and inevitable choice was always Biden’s home state of Delaware — and potentially splitting the fortnight between two different locations.
The first was his Wilmington home, a place where he has now spent 14 of his 29 weekends as president. The home is near and dear to his heart due to its proximity to his family, including his grandchildren, and he has told confidants that he feels more comfortable there than at the White House, where he constantly has aides and Secret Service agents underfoot.
He has privately admitted to at times being homesick. There has been some scrutiny on his frequent travel back home, conducted at taxpayer expense, just as there was questions about the — much larger — cost of his predecessor Donald Trump’s frequent trips to his golf courses in Florida and New Jersey.
“Because it’s his home,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki last week, when questioned why Biden traveled back to Wilmington so often. “You like going home, right? So, does the President. He’s human too.”
The second location in the First State under consideration was the family home at Rehoboth Beach, a popular seaside destination. First Lady Jill Biden has in particular advocated spending time at the beach house, but it presented two significant challenges, according to aides.
For one, the Secret Service expressed concern about securing the house, which is nestled among other homes and not as easy to fortify as his more remote Wilmington abode. And secondly, a presidential visit requires a huge security footprint that could close roads and snarl traffic in a bustling beach town that does most of its yearly business on summer weekends. One option considered was to confine his time at Rehoboth to mid-week in order to cause less of a disruption.
He’s been to the home in Rehoboth Beach just once so far, spending a few weekdays there with first lady Jill Biden in early June to celebrate her 70th birthday. Other aides advocated an extended stay at Camp David, the official presidential retreat in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountains, a remote and secure forested facility where a photo of Biden playing a Mario Kart arcade game with his granddaughter went viral earlier this year.
Though some Republicans will surely grouse about Biden taking a vacation during a surge in virus cases, the modern president is never completely free from work, tethered by secure telephone lines and other technology with a coterie of top aides and advisers always close by.
Like his predecessors, Biden travels with a large entourage of aides, Secret Service agents and journalists in an unmistakable motorcade of more than a dozen dark vehicles. Even when on a so-called vacation, presidents are still receiving briefings on national security, the economy and other issues, attending to matters of state and mapping future plans.
Presidential vacations are often quite political and, at times, used to reinforce public personas. George W. Bush often spent August clearing brush in the 100-degree heat that baked his central Texas ranch. Barack Obama worked on his golf game on the Massachusetts island of Martha’s Vineyard. Trump spent time at his home on his private golf club in central New Jersey.
And at times, presidents have had to make legacy-defining decisions while on vacation, including Bush’s response to Hurricane Katrina flooding New Orleans in 2005. Bill Clinton ordered airstrikes against al-Qaida terrorists from Martha’s Vineyard in response to the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. And Bush’s father, President George H.W. Bush, planned the U.S. response to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 from his family’s oceanfront compound in Kennebunkport, Maine.
In total, Biden had aimed to take two weeks away from Washington. But thanks to the Senate, Biden now will not make his return to Wilmington until later this week and then spend the weekend at Camp David, according to officials.
It is not yet clear where he will spend next week. Pack accordingly.
Lemire reported from New York.