updated at 2:40 pm ET
President Obama is leaving Martha’s Vineyard today instead of Saturday, undoubtedly hoping to avoid reports that he is lounging on vacation while Hurricane Irene barrels into North Carolina.
Mrs. Obama appears to have initially decided to finish out the vacation, according to reports, staying with the couple’s daughters until Saturday at a cost of thousands to taxpayers.
But after saying today the first lady would return Saturday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest later said she and the family would join the president. I can only think the president’s political advisers intervened directly to avoid a public relations nightmare.
The first lady also traveled to Martha’s Vineyard a few hours ahead of the president a week ago Thursday, a separate trip that added to the taxpayers’ tab for the trip.
Bringing Mrs. Obama home a day later would have forced the Secret Service to continue to provide security on Martha’s Vineyard even though the president would be back in Washington. And Mrs. Obama would have again billed the Air Force for a separate, specially equipped jet to take her home.
The Obamas will get most of today to play – they are not scheduled to return to Washington until Midnight.
Obama’s decision to get home early has both political and practical elements to it.
The hurricane is already causing rain in North Carolina and is expected to begin having its worst effects on the state Friday night. So the president would have been relaxing at one of the country’s most exclusive vacation destinations while thousands of Americans were beginning to suffer and possibly die.
Obama’s presence in Washington will also allow him to oversee the response in a more effective manner than were he at Martha’s Vineyard, given the enhanced communications tools available to him at the White House.
It must also have occurred to Obama’s political advisers that North Carolina is a key presidential swing state, so crucial to Obama’s reelection chances that the Democratic Party has decided to hold it’s convention in Charlotte.
Fresh in the minds of White House and campaign officials is also Hurricane Katrina, which almost exactly six years ago caused the tragic disaster in New Orleans while George W. Bush was on vacation at his ranch in Crawford, Texas.
Bush’s failure to respond speedily proved a political disaster from which he was never able to fully recover.