Bush's Year At Camp David

By CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller
It was a familiar sight today as President Bush headed to Marine One for the 30 minute flight to Camp David. The numbers reflect just how much he likes the place.

Our CBS News tally shows that today marks his 116th visit to the presidential retreat.

It also brings his total time there to 365 days. That's one year.

But Mr. Bush complained to me last month about my numbers. He thinks it's unfair to count a partial day as a full one. He only arrived at Camp David today before noon, but it counts as a day in my records.

So let's be fair and say he's been there all – or part – of 365 days.

By comparison – it's not that much. President Jimmy Carter spent 376 days at Camp David during his single four-year term in office.

But his Presidential Library avoids the "number of days" issue by providing the number of hours Mr. Carter spent at Camp David. That count comes to 6,647.5 hours.

On October 5, 1980, Mr. Carter spent but a single hour at Camp David – though I count it as a full or partial day.

President Ronald Reagan spent more time at Camp David than any other chief executive. He made 186 visits there – totaling all or part of 517 days.

He once said, "Of all the things about the presidency, we will miss Camp David the most."

The Bushes feel similarly. In a CBS News interview marking the President's 100th visit to Camp David in December of 2005, First Lady Laura Bush explained the attraction.

"We love to go there," she said. "It's a great place to go on the weekends where we can actually be outside, we can walk outside, and we can also be with family and friends." ()

Camp David is a 143-acre compound nestled in the Catoctin Mountains of Maryland - about 70 miles from the White house.

It's a hideaway that doesn't appear on official maps and is more heavily guarded than the White House.

(U.S. National Archives)
As the one who established the place, President Franklin Roosevelt named it "Shangri-la." It gave him a place to get away from the summer heat of Washington, Since then, other presidents have found its the place to go to flee the political heat as well.

Dwight Eisenhower found the name Shangri-la a bit too high-falutin' and changed it to Camp David - to honor his five-year-old grandson.

Gerald Ford had a swimming pool installed during his term in office. He also liked the tennis.

Harry Truman, however, didn't care for it much. He hardly went there at all.

In any case, Laura Bush thinks people have the wrong idea about Camp David.

"I think they'd be surprised to know how rustic it is," she said.

The rustic and secluded nature of the place is what makes it ideal as a relaxed setting in which presidents can pursue diplomacy. None was of greater import than the Mideast peace agreement negotiated at Camp David by Jimmy Carter.

(JAFFE/AFP/Getty)
Mr. Bush has played host at Camp David to eight foreign leaders – but also to scores of policy meetings. None was more ominous than the gathering there of his war cabinet - four days after the 9/11 attacks. Laura Bush recalls it as a weekend of high emotion and anxiety.

"The cabinet members and the President and the National Security Advisor met during the days," she said. "The spouses worked on puzzles together or went for walks."

Little known about the place is that Camp David is technically a U.S. Navy installation. It goes by the name of "Naval Support Facility – Thurmont." That's the name of the Maryland town nearest to Camp David.

Why is a land-locked compound in the mountains a Navy installation?

When FDR founded the place, he got the Navy crew from the Presidential Yacht the USS Potomac to help build and staff it. A special detachment of Navy and U.S. Marines have been there ever since.
Mark Knoller
  • James Klatell

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