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White House Not Shy About Calling it a "Vacation"

5258348The Obama White House is not at bit shy about using the "V" word and saying flat out: the president is taking ten days vacation.

You don't yet hear the euphemisms that officials in previous administrations used to employ in an effort to disguise what the president was doing: such phrases as "down time," "change of venue" or as a last resort, "working vacation,"

Presidents are self-conscious about taking vacation. And the more they take, the more self-conscious.

No matter how hard they work or how much they've earned some time off, they'll face criticism for taking a breather.

But this is President Obama's first vacation as president, so the criticism is muted, though not invisible. And White House spokesman Robert Gibbs offers no apologies or equivocations about Mr. Obama's right and need to get away.

"I don't think the American people begrudge a president taking some time with his family that's well-earned and well-deserved for a few days to see and spend time with them," said Gibbs at his last pre-vacation press briefing.

Mr. Obama left Friday afternoon to join his wife and daughters for a partial weekend at Camp David. On Sunday morning, they head to Martha's Vineyard, where they'll spend a week on the 28-acres of Blue Heron Farm, as estate Mr. Obama is renting at a cost estimated at $25,000.

Martha's Vineyard has a well-earned reputation as a summer haven for the rich and famous. President Clinton and family took six of their eight summer vacations on the Vineyard. Other presidents have vacationed there dating back to Ulysses Grant in 1874.

But the island is an easy target for critics. Even former President George W. Bush enjoyed taking a swipe at those who vacation there. He thought his hot and dusty ranch in Crawford, Texas, was a more fitting vacation place for a president because "most Americans don't sit in Martha's Vineyard swilling white wine."

No recent president took more heat for his vacations than did President Bush. My records show he made 77 trips to his ranch while in office, spending all or part of 490 days there. He also made 149 visits to Camp David, totaling all or part of 487 days. And he also trekked to his folks place in Kennebunkport, Maine on 11 occasions, racking up all or part of 43 days there. Add 'em up and you get 1,020 days or 2.8 years of his presidency.

It's more "vacation time" than any other recent president. But bear in mind that no president can truly take what the rest of us regard as a vacation.

The responsibilities of the office follow the president wherever he is no matter what he is doing.

Further, presidents are accompanied on vacation by scores of aides, communications personnel, other support staff and Secret Service. During one of Mr. Bush's ranch trips, I counted 162 people on the White House staff list. It's no different for Mr. Obama. He pays for his family's share of the vacation. Taxpayers pick up the tab for all the others accompanying him.

Mr. Obama will get daily national security briefings and have access to secure communications. There are few presidential capabilities he has at the White House that won't be available to him on vacation.

But aides say that to the greatest extent possible, Mr. Obama intends to take a break.

"I do think that as he's on vacation, he will concentrate on being on vacation," said spokesman Gibbs last week. But Gibbs also says Mr. Obama will be available should pressing issues arise.

And they always do. Crises and emergencies never take a vacation.


(CBS)
Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent. You can read more of his posts in Hotsheet here. You can also follow him on Twitter here: http://twitter.com/markknoller.