American presidents traditionally get out of Washington at the end of August, when congress is gone and the humidity is at its worst. But even in Martha's Vineyard, President Obama can't escape the uncharacteristically busy news week.
With a regime falling in Libya, an earthquake in Virginia and a the first hurricane threatening the United States in three years, Mr. Obama might not be getting the break he was hoping for.
While the commander in chief has been seen around the island golfing and attending parties, the White House insists he's on top of all the developments. "He's spent a decent amount of time dealing with sort of the day-to-day responsibilities of being president," Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Wednesday. "But also some of the emergent situations that we've seen in the last couple of days, in terms of the developments in Libya, in terms of the earthquake, in terms of the preparations for the hurricane. So there have been some things that have intervened."
The president did not feel the earthquake while golfing Tuesday afternoon, 600 miles from the epicenter in Mineral, Virginia. Members of the White House Press Corp experienced effects of an aftershock in the Martha's Vineyard workspace, with chandeliers slightly swaying. Mr. Obama did however conduct a conference call from the golf course.
This is not the first time president Obama has had a vacation interrupted with breaking news. While in Hawaii for his Christmas holiday in 2009, an airplane passenger attempted to set off a bomb on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. President Obama was briefed by his National Security Council chief Denis McDonough, also in Hawaii.
And as the president braces for the first hurricane of his administration, he may want to learn from his predecessor. George W. Bush was vacationing for weeks at his Texas ranch when Hurricane Katrina made landfall in August of 2005. When he returned to Washington in crisis mode, he was widely criticized for not responding quickly enough.
President Clinton cut his Martha's Vineyard vacation short in August 1998. As the Monica Lewinsky scandal was unfolding, Clinton returned to Washington for one night, ordering missile strikes on suspected terror bases in Afghanistan and Sudan. He went back to the Vineyard the very next day.
President George H.W. Bush ended a Kennebunkport August vacation in 1990 to deal with the Persian Gulf situation. Ronald Regan cut short a California ranch trip after a Soviet attack on a Korean airliner. Economic pressures forced President Jimmy Carter to end a vacation in June of 1970 during an energy crisis and high gas prices.
In times of economic trouble, presidents have always been criticized for taking lavish vacations. But when elements are outside of their control, the White House needs to be ready to react and return to Washington should a crisis require it. And for many modern presidents, the demands of the office have cursed their summer vacation plans.