Watch CBS News

President Obama gets cabin fever, walks to Starbucks

Politicians sacrifice a lot to live in the White House, but once they get in, most are eager to find a way out of the bubble.

CBS News' senior White House correspondent Bill Plante was out in Washington, D.C., when he saw a big crowd coming towards him. The secret service was motioning the crowd aside, Plante said, as President Obama was walking outside with a cup of tea in hand.

Plante has covered five presidents, but he said he had never seen anything like this.

"I don't get a chance to take walks very often," President Obama said last month. "Secret Service gets a little stressed. But every once in a while I'm able to sneak off. I'm sort of like the circus bear that kind of breaks the chain."

Chief of Staff Denis McDonough suggested an afternoon coffee break, and without telling the press or most of the staff, the commander-in-chief walked a block and half to a nearby Starbucks, telling a staffer on the way out, "the bear is loose again."

Three weeks ago, he surprised tourists on the National Mall, choosing to walk rather than ride to a meeting at the interior department.

A Washington, D.C., little league team wasn't expecting the president either even though its roster included former White House Press Secretary Jay Carney's daughter.

The president made a surprise visit on his way to a recent fundraiser to take pictures and toss the ball around.

This president is hardly the first to get White House cabin fever.

Harry Truman went out for a long walk most mornings, at a faster clip than the reporters who trudged along. Dwight Eisenhower, like most recent presidents, fled the White House for the golf course whenever he could. Ronald Reagan slipped away at least once, and complained after less than a year in office that the White House was like a gilded cage.

"I sometimes look out the window at Pennsylvania Avenue and wonder what it would be like to be able to just walk down the street to the corner drugstore and look at the magazines. I can't do that anymore," Reagan said in a CBS Radio interview.

Early in his presidency, Bill Clinton went for frequent morning jogs. His habit of stopping for fast food afterward even prompted a parody on Saturday Night Live.

After a while, all presidents feel confined and start looking for ways to shed the motorcade, security personnel and reporters that generally tag along. And occasionally that means keeping reporters at a distance.

"How's the coffee?" Plante asked Obama.

"'s tea," Obama said.

The president's staff says there's no planned message in these impromptu outings, that he just likes to walk and talk, but they like the message they think it sends: regular guy.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.