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Out of the fray, onto the Vineyard

Obama begins not-so-carefree vacation

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By Mark Arsenault
Globe Staff / August 20, 2010

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TISBURY — President Obama returned to the cooling breezes of Martha’s Vineyard yesterday to begin a 10-day break from Washington’s oppressive heat and partisan atmosphere, leaving with a parting shot at Republicans’ “obstruction’’ of a jobs creation bill.

The delay “stands in the way of small-business owners getting the loans and the tax cuts that they need to prosper,’’ Obama said at a brief White House appearance. “It’s obstruction that defies common sense.’’ Republicans struck back, calling Obama’s record on jobs an “epic failure.’’

Although Obama left the usual tit-for-tat dialogue of Washington behind, it was harder to shed worries about a sputtering economy and unhappy voters as he returned to the Vineyard for his second summer. The get-away may well prove to be less carefree than last year, when he was buoyed by popular support.

The Obamas plan a low-key family vacation with no public events scheduled, aides say — although islanders can expect the president to make occasional jaunts into villages for ice cream with his children or rounds of golf with his friends.

He arrived aboard the Marine One helicopter at Martha’s Vineyard airport, landing in a swirl of dust amid tight security at 2:40 p.m.

Obama, without a tie or jacket, was met by a convoy of five dark sport utility vehicles, which led a motorcade of police and media to Blue Heron Farm in Chilmark — the same 28-acre estate the family rented last year. He was accompanied by the family’s dog, Bo, who was flown in on a staff helicopter.

The motorcade traveled along winding island roads, which were mostly empty of people, although in some sections, a few dozen people waved American flags and cheered as he passed. One woman gave the motorcade a sour thumbs-down.

Michelle Obama and the couple’s children, Malia and Sasha, traveled separately, arriving unannounced on the island about three hours before the president on a sunny New England summer afternoon.

The family chose to return to Martha’s Vineyard in part for its natural beauty, beaches, and food, said Bill Burton, Obama’s deputy press secretary.

“And it’s someplace that the president went before he was president and likes to go back because it’s a comfortable place where he can rest and recharge the batteries a little bit.’’

Before that could start, however, the president took care of several outstanding issues. In addition to his call for action on the jobs front, Obama bypassed the Senate confirmation process and installed three midlevel agency officials and a diplomat whose nominations had been held up by partisan squabbling by as much as 14 months.

“At a time when our nation faces so many pressing challenges, I urge members of the Senate to stop playing politics with our highly qualified nominees and fulfill their responsibilities of advice and consent,’’ Obama said.

Although Obama may be able to leave the acrimony of Washington behind, much of the work of being president continues on vacation, aides say. He will still get regular security briefings and updates on the economy.

Traveling with the president yesterday were Burton, Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan, and Valerie Jarrett, a longtime friend and senior adviser and assistant to the president for intergovernmental affairs.

There could hardly be a better time for Obama to get out of Washington.

More Americans disapprove of the way he is handling his job than those who approve, according to numerous public polls. This despite the president’s many legislative and policy achievements this year — including the passage of a Wall Street financial overhaul, a $26 billion aid package for struggling state governments, extensions of benefits for unemployed Americans, and last spring’s exhausting victory on landmark legislation to overhaul the health care industry.

But the nation’s unemployment rate is stubbornly stuck at 9.5 percent, and Democrats are bracing for steep losses in the midterm elections, which could cost the party control of the US House of Representatives just four years after retaking the chamber in 2006.

“We’ve returned to a state where Americans are widely pessimistic about the future,’’ said Jeffrey Berry, a political scientist at Tufts University. “They’ve lost confidence that the president knows what direction he’s going on the economy. This president’s accomplishments are real and they’re important, but for most Americans they don’t touch them in a large way yet.’’

The Republican National Committee yesterday blasted the president for embarking on vacation after headlining several fund-raisers “on the caviar trail’’ for Democrats across the country, and Michael Steele, RNC chairman, hit back at the president on jobs yesterday.

“It is way past time for the White House to be straight with the American people and admit that $862 billion stimulus did not do what was promised,’’ Steele said in a statement. “It is clear that the Democrats’ strategy of reckless spending, ballooning deficits, and higher taxes are not the answer and that we need to pursue Republican pro-growth solutions to get our economy back on track.’’

Before the president reenters the cauldron of Washington, and resumes his push back against Republicans on pending legislative battles and for Democrats facing tough election battles, he is planning to maintain a low profile on vacation.

Plans, of course, are subject to unpredictable events. Last year during his Vineyard vacation, he took time to renominate Ben Bernanke as Federal Reserve chairman. And he left the island to speak at the funeral of his friend and former colleague, Senator Edward M. Kennedy.

Globe staff reporter Farah Stockman contributed to this report.