© 2020 Texas Public Radio
Real. Reliable. Texas Public Radio.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Why Biden Spends His Weekends Away From The White House

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

President Biden is in Wilmington, Del., this evening. He has spent a lot of time there as president. In fact, he spent twice as many weekends at his home there as he has in the White House. Some time next week, he's expected to start a summer vacation - where else? Delaware. Here's NPR's Tamara Keith.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: For Biden, the draw of Delaware, the need to be there with his family in his home, runs deep.

TED KAUFMAN: It's a very, very special place for Joe Biden.

KEITH: Ted Kaufman is Biden's friend and was his chief of staff in the Senate. After Biden's daughter and wife were killed in a car accident in 1972, he went home to Delaware every single night to be with his sons.

KAUFMAN: And for 19 years, I was chief of staff, so I made 4,827,650 - I don't know what the number is - some incredible number of trips back and forth with him.

KEITH: For most of that time, Biden rode Amtrak. Kaufman remembers the train breaking down once about 15 miles outside of Wilmington.

KAUFMAN: And he just walked out to the highway and hitchhiked home.

KEITH: Biden doesn't need to hitchhike anymore. He takes Air Force One or Marine One, plus a full security detail and top aides. When in Wilmington, he mostly stays at home in a house Kaufman says Biden spent years planning and designing right down to the doorknobs. His grandchildren visit, and there are family dinners. Kaufman says this is important time, keeping the president centered. During a CNN Town Hall, Biden admitted he has struggled with the formality of the White House, having people around constantly.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: It is very hard to get comfortable.

KEITH: He said he just wants to be able to walk out in his bathrobe and grab breakfast for himself. To date, Biden has spent all or part of 46 days in Delaware and 26 at Camp David, the presidential retreat. That's according to Mark Knoller, a longtime White House correspondent who has been tracking every detail of presidential movements and trivia for decades.

MARK KNOLLER: Let me pull up my numbers.

KEITH: Biden spends a lot of time away from the White House, but it's not unprecedented. Knoller says he's running slightly behind George W. Bush, who spent long periods at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, clearing brush.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GEORGE W BUSH: As you can see, my economic team came down. We've had some great briefings.

KEITH: All told, Bush spent more than a year of his presidency at his ranch. Ronald Reagan spent more than a year's worth of time at Camp David and nearly a year at his ranch in California, where he enjoyed riding horses. Knoller remembers being in California with Reagan when an American aircraft was shot down and the president had to make a hasty return to Washington.

KNOLLER: There have been times like that during practically each of the subsequent presidents. You know, the world intervenes on what you or I might call vacation, but it's really just a change of venue.

KEITH: Barack Obama was on Martha's Vineyard when ISIS beheaded an American journalist in Syria in 2014. Donald Trump was at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida when he ordered an airstrike on Syria in 2017. What made Trump different was he spent his time at commercial properties he owned, where there were paying customers, and the Secret Service had to pay for rooms and golf cart rentals. He was always defensive about his time away from the White House, refusing to admit that he was relaxing or playing golf.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: We have a series of meetings and, more importantly, a series of very well-connected phone calls. We have a great phone system up there and - as you know, so I'll be doing a lot of work.

BRENDAN DOHERTY: Criticism of presidential vacations is almost as old as the republic itself.

KEITH: Brendan Doherty is a political science professor at the U.S. Naval Academy. He says being president is a high-stress job that never really stops.

DOHERTY: Regardless of always being on the job, they get criticized for what they do. Nancy Reagan once said, presidents don't get vacations, they just get a change of scenery.

KEITH: And she was in a position to know. Both Knoller and Doherty have come to see presidential vacations as a necessity, even if the job always travels with them.

Tamara Keith, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE CINEMATIC ORCHESTRA'S "LESSONS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.