Q: Has President Obama taken more vacation time than his predecessors?
A: According to one count, Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush spent more time on "vacation" during their first year than President Obama did. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton spent less time on "vacation."
President Obama has spent all or part of 26 days "on vacation" during his first year as president, according to CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller.
Knoller, who has covered every president since Gerald Ford and is known for keeping detailed records on presidential travel, counts the following among President Obama’s "vacations" in 2009:
- A four-day holiday weekend in Chicago in February where the president played some basketball and treated First Lady Michelle Obama to a Valentine’s Day dinner date.
- An eight-day stay with his family at a rented house on Martha’s Vineyard in August.
- A trip out west to the U.S. states of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and Arizona that combined both business and pleasure. The president held town hall meetings on health care during the trip. And he went fly fishing and took trips to Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Canyon with his wife and two daughters.
- An 11-day stay in Hawaii where the president and his family celebrated Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
Some of the president’s recent predecessors, however, have spent more days — either entirely or partially — away from the White House "on vacation" during their first year in office.
President Reagan, in 1981, spent all or part of 42 days away from the White House "on vacation" at his home in Santa Barbara, Calif, according to Knoller. President Reagan and his wife, Nancy, also spent three or four days around New Year’s Day each year in Palm Springs, Calif., at the home of philanthropist Walter Annenberg. (In 1993 the late Mr. Annenberg founded the nonpartisan Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, which is FactCheck.org’s parent organization.)
President George W. Bush spent even more time away from the presidential mansion in the nation’s capital than Reagan. Of the 77 total "vacation" trips the former president made to his Texas ranch while in office, nine of them — all or part of 69 days — came during his first year as president in 2001, according to Knoller.
Bush’s father, President George H.W. Bush, spent less time "on vacation" during his first year than his son, but spent more days than President Obama. According to travel records provided to FactCheck.org by the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, the former president took six trips — spanning all or part of 40 days — to the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, in 1989. The archivist at Bush’s presidential library told us she didn’t have a list of all vacations but did have the Kennebunkport visits.
But at least two recent presidents — by Knoller’s count — took less "vacation" time during their first year than President Obama — Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.
According to Knoller, Carter spent just 19 days "on vacation" in 1977. Most of that time, Knoller says, the former president spent at his home in Plains, Ga. President Clinton took all or part of 174 days of vacation during his eight years as president — most of that "vacation" time was during the summer, according to Knoller. But Knoller says Clinton only took 21 "vacation" days during his first year.
It’s worth mentioning that President Obama has also made 11 trips — all or part of 27 days — to Camp David, the presidential retreat in Frederick County, Md. Knoller, however, says he doesn’t count trips to Camp David as part of any presidents’ "vacation" time. But for the sake of comparison, President George W. Bush, made more trips to that country residence than Obama. According to Knoller, Bush made 25 trips — a total of 78 days — to Camp David in 2001.
But no matter how much time a president actually spends away from the official residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., Knoller says that the commander in chief is never really off the clock. "I have long held the view that a US president is never really on vacation," Knoller told FactCheck.org in an e-mail. "The job – and its awesome powers and responsibilities – is his wherever he is and whatever he’s doing."
Knoller, Mark. CBS News White House Correspondent, Radio. E-mail sent to FactCheck.org. 6 Jan 2010.
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Knoller, Mark. "Obama Seeks Rest on Foray Out West." CBS News "Political HotSheet" Blog. 14 Aug 2009.
Hendler, Clint. "Mark Knoller Knows." Columbia Journalism Review. 9 Dec 2009.
Elliott, Phillip. "Obama Returns Home for First Time as President." Associated Press. 13 Feb 2009.
Associated Press. "Obama family vacationing in Martha’s Vineyard." MSNBC.com. 23 Aug 2009.
Nakaso, Dan. "President Obama and his family leave Isles after Hawaii vacation." Honolulu Advertiser. 4 Jan 2010.