Obamas' Date Night in New York City Draws Criticism

His public schedule listed no official events, so President Obama had plenty of time to devote to being a weekend dad and spouse.

The president and first lady Michelle Obama watched daughter Malia's soccer game for an hour Saturday morning in the Palisades neighborhood, a short drive from the White House.

For the evening, the first couple jetted to New York City for date night. 

They dined a little more than two hours at Blue Hill, a West Village restaurant, then headed to the Belasco Theater to make it in time for "Joe Turner's Come and Gone."

The play by August Wilson is about black America in the early 1900s, with residents of a boardinghouse recalling their migration from the sharecropping farms of the South to the industrialized North.

The White House refused to say how much the trip was costing taxpayers.

Even before the Obamas left Washington, the there-and-back trip drew criticism from Republicans. They questioned the president's decision to travel to New York for a night of entertainment during a recession and while automakers struggle to survive.

It was just a few months ago that auto executives were roundly criticized when they traveled to Washington for congressional hearings in pricey private planes.

The Republican National Committee issued a news release that chastised Obama for saying he understands American's troubles, but then hopping up to New York for "a night on the town."

Noting that General Motors is expected to file for Chapter 11 protection on Monday, the news release said: "Putting on a show: Obamas wing into the city for an evening out while another iconic American company prepares for bankruptcy."

In a statement read to the press, Obama said, "I am taking my wife to New York City because I promised her during the campaign that I would take her to a Broadway show after it was all finished."

If the Obamas wanted to catch a show closer to the White House, they had some choices in Washington: Tom Stoppard's "Arcadia" at the Folger Elizabethan Theatre; Valerie Harper in "Looped" at the Lincoln Theatre; "Rent," at the Warner Theatre; Noel Coward's "Design for Living" at the Shakespeare Theatre Company; or Stoppard's "Rock 'n' Roll" at the Studio Theatre.

Reporters weren't allowed to see the soccer game. The Obamas took a smaller plane than the jumbo jet he usually uses. White House staff and reporters flew in two similar aircraft.

"Hi, guys," Obama said to reporters and visitors gathered at the White House as he and Michelle left for their night out. Both were decked out: She wore her hair up, heels and a sleeveless black ruffled dress that fell below the knee while he went tieless in a dark suit and white shirt.

Daughter Sasha draped herself over the railing of the White House's top balcony, waving and calling out to her parents as they boarded Marine One for the quick flight to the plane at Andrews Air Force Base that would carrying the couple to New York.

A White House spokesman, Josh Earnest, said the smaller planes were used because fewer aides traveled with the presidents and the planes were more efficient than the big jet.

In an interview before his inauguration, Barack Obama said he and his wife liked having date nights, usually on Fridays. Since the moving to Washington, the Obamas have managed to fit in at least a couple nights out in the nation's capital.

Earlier in May, the two dined for nearly two hours at a Georgetown restaurant before taking an 8-minute stroll around the White House grounds. They've watched an Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performance at the Kennedy Center and celebrated Mrs. Obama's birthday with friends at Equinox, a white-tablecloth restaurant near the White House.

While on a trip to New York last week, Michelle Obama was reminded about the couple's first date.

"You know, after 20-some-odd years of knowing a guy, you forget that your first date was at a museum," she said. "But it was, and it was obviously wonderful. It worked."