President Barack Obama spent a quiet Christmas morning with his family Saturday, a rare bit of privacy for one of the world’s most scrutinized men.
Obama was with his family in the same oceanfront neighborhood on the island of Oahu last December, when a 23-year-old Nigerian man allegedly attempted to blow up a plane bound for Detroit. The incident raised questions about the nation’s terror readiness and consumed the rest of Obama’s vacation.
This year’s presidential holiday is off to a far more low-key start, and the White House is hoping it stays that way. Obama plans to spend Christmas at his rented oceanfront home in Kailua with his family and his sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, who lives on Oahu. Several of Obama’s childhood friends are also in town, along with family friends from Chicago.
On the first family’s Christmas Day menu: steak, roasted potatoes, green beans and pie.
Thus far, Obama’s excursions in Hawaii have been limited to the gym, golf course, and a Christmas Eve trip to the beach with his daughters.
Mrs. Obama skipped the beach so she could give some lucky children a Christmas surprise. The first lady answered calls for the “Tracking Santa” program, a Christmas tradition run by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). With help from NORAD’s Santa Route Schedule, Mrs. Obama was able to tell children Santa’s whereabouts as he made his Christmas Eve rounds.
Last Christmas, the president and first lady surprised troops stationed at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, greeting service members during their holiday dinner. White House officials wouldn’t say whether Obama planned to visit the troops again this Christmas.
In his weekly radio and Internet address, the president encouraged Americans to find ways to support U.S. service members, many of whom are spending the holidays away from their families.
“Let’s all remind them this holiday season that we’re thinking of them, and that America will forever be here for them, just as they’ve been there for us,” Obama said.
The first lady, who has made working with military families one of her top priorities, said Americans don’t need to be experts in military life in order to give back to those who serve their country. She urged the public to reach out through their schools and churches, or volunteer with organizations that support military families.
“Anybody can send a care package or pre-paid calling card to the front lines, or give what’s sometimes the most important gift of all: simply saying thank you,” Mrs. Obama said.
The first family has no public events planned during their vacation. The president, though, is receiving daily briefings, beginning work on January’s State of the Union address, and evaluating a staff review headed by interim chief of staff Pete Rouse.
Obama arrived in Hawaii on a high note, having secured victories on legislative priorities: ratification of a nuclear arms treaty with Russia and the repeal of the military’s ban on openly gay service members. He also compromised with Republicans to extend tax cuts for all income earners, a deal that angered some liberals but won him rare bipartisan support.
Awaiting Obama in 2011 is an economy still struggling to achieve steady growth, a divided Congress and a host of Republicans ready to run for his job in the 2012 election.
The Obamas are expected to stay in Hawaii through Jan. 2.
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