Watch CBSN Live

Obamas Visit Their Hometown? No We Can't

People do it all the time. They move, and promise to visit the old neighborhood often.

You never see them again.

Barack Obama said when he became president that he wanted to get back to his home in Chicago every six weeks or so.

Oh, well.

Mr. Obama has spent just one weekend - Valentine's Day - in his South Side mansion since taking office in January. He stuck around the White House for Thanksgiving, headed to Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts for summer vacation, and Michelle Obama told Oprah Winfrey the family would spend Christmas in the president's childhood home of Hawaii.

For all the talk about how much he wanted to get back to his brick home in Hyde Park, he's opted more often to stay put at the White House or head for the nearby presidential retreat of Camp David in Maryland.

Can't much blame the guy, really.

First daughters Sasha and Malia have developed a new circle of friends in Washington, complete with Saturday afternoon soccer and basketball games that attract the president in a baseball cap and jeans. First duffer Obama has settled into a routine that sends him to nearby golf courses when the Sunday afternoon weather cooperates.

When the Obamas need a Chicago fix, they invite friends from the Windy City to visit their new home at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

"Sasha had her birthday party here, and she was flying folks in for a pool party," Mr. Obama told reporters in June. "So, really, it revolves around the girls' social schedule."

When the Obamas do escape Washington's city limits, it's often for Camp David, the sprawling and secluded retreat in the Catoctin Mountains.

"If Michelle and I had our way," the president said, "we'd go there every weekend."

Mrs. Obama has made no secret of her love for the place.

"Barack and I and the girls, as you may have read, just had a little retreat away," she told employees of the Interior Department in February. "We visited Camp David for the first time and got to experience the beautiful - the beauty of those grounds, and it was just wonderful to get a bit of a break and to spend some quality time as a family in nature."

Obama friends say the first family misses Chicago, but it's not as if the president of the United States can jump on a late Friday flight so they can sleep in their own beds.

"The president would like to get back to Chicago as often as possible. Obviously, the demands on his time have made that harder," said Robert Gibbs, the White House's top spokesman who is among the president's longest-serving aides.

"He has a deep and abiding love for the town. I don't think there's any doubt that he misses it."

The logistics, though, make it tough to get back to the affluent neighborhood that the Obamas called home until January. The Obamas' tree-lined street in Hyde Park is surrounded by blocks of metal and concrete barriers. The public can't drive past the $1.6 million home, which remains under high security even though President Obama hasn't been there in months.

A weekend in a quiet neighborhood feels more like a trip to a prison than the 'burbs.

When the president returned there for what was supposed to be a romantic Valentine's Day weekend, his motorcade and traveling reporters idled nearby in the cold. He took helicopters from the airport to a field near his home. Armored vehicles went with him to play basketball. And the entire presidential caravan escorted the first couple to their dinner in downtown Chicago.

(White House/Eric Draper, Pete Souza)
Hardly the isolation that President George W. Bush enjoyed at his Texas ranch or that President George H.W. Bush had at his seaside estate in Kennebunkport, Maine.

(Left: President Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, Aug. 6, 2001; right: President Obama in the White House Rose Garden, November 9, 2009.)

"Let me explain to you, my Kennebunkport is on the South Side of Chicago," Mr. Obama told The Chicago Tribune before his inauguration. "We own one piece of property and that is our home in Chicago. It is 10 minutes away from where Michelle grew up and where her mother still has a house. Our friends are here. Our family is here. And so we are going to try to come back here as often as possible.

"My expectation would be that, depending on what my schedule looks like, you know, we're going to try to get back here at least once every six weeks or couple months."

That was, it appears, before he had discovered the difficulties of shifting the White House operation to Chicago, embraced Camp David and watched his girls make new friends. In addition, Mrs. Obama's mother, Marian Robinson, ended up moving into the White House with the family to help take care of Sasha and Malia.

The last time Obama saw his Chicago home was in July, when he stopped by during a fundraising trip. His motorcade shut down the street and idled outside while he was inside having dinner with friends.

For more info:
Camp David
By Associated Press Writer Philip Elliott

View CBS News In