POSTED: 04:59 a.m. HST, Dec 23, 2010
LAST UPDATED: 12:53 p.m. HST, Dec 23, 2010
President Barack Obama eased into the first day of his Hawaiian vacation Thursday, opting for privacy over publicity after wrapping up a frenzied lame-duck legislative session.
The president began with what's become a familiar routine during his trips to Hawaii — a morning workout at a gym at Marine Corps Base Hawaii. He returned to the base later in the morning to play a round of golf with two of his childhood friends from his years growing up in Hawaii, as well as a family friend from Chicago.
Obama managed to avoid the cameras during both outings Thursday. He has no public events scheduled during his 11-day vacation, and aides said he planned to spend much of his time at the luxurious oceanfront home his family was renting in Kailua.
"He is as much as anything anxious to spend time where he grew up with his family and to see his sister," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.
Obama's half-sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, and her family live on Oahu. The president planned to visit with several childhood friends while on the island, and he was also being joined on vacation by Chicago friends Marty Nesbitt and Eric Whitaker.
On the president's reading vacation reading list: "President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime," Lou Cannon's biography of the Republican president.
The president's vacation won't be all rest and relaxation. He was to be briefed by advisers daily, and he also planned to spend time working on his State of the Union address, scheduled in January, and a staff review headed by interim chief of staff Pete Rouse.
Obama spoke by phone Thursday with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. The two leaders hailed the Senate's ratification a day earlier of a U.S.-Russian nuclear arms pact as a historic event.
The White House says Obama and Medvedev agreed to continue cooperation on a range of critical issues.
Obama arrived here shortly before midnight Wednesday after having pushed back his scheduled Saturday departure to stay in Washington while lawmakers wrapped up their legislative session.
He began his vacation on a high note, having secured victories on the nuclear arms treaty with Russia and the repeal of the ban on openly gay service members. He also struck a deal with Republican lawmakers to allow tax cuts for all income earners to continue, a compromise that angered some liberals.
At a Washington news conference Wednesday, Obama said the accomplishments of a postelection session of Congress demonstrated "we are not doomed to endless gridlock." He described the six-week session where lawmakers who had not been reelected still held their seats, as "a season of progress for the American people."
The waning weeks of 2010 provided the president a much-needed boost following a volatile year and a self-proclaimed "shellacking" in the November midterm elections. Awaiting Obama in January: an economy still struggling to achieve steady growth, a Congress more laden with Republicans, and a host of GOP challengers poised to run for his job in 2012.
Christmas in Hawaii has become a family tradition for the Obamas, who were spending their third straight year in Kailua. Obama also was forced to delay his departure last December due to action on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers worked until Christmas Eve to pass his signature health care overhaul legislation.
At the time, Obama spokesman Bill Burton told reporters traveling to Hawaii with Obama that the president's Christmas wish for the press corps was to "relax and to not anticipate any public announcements or news-making events."
It wasn't meant to be. On Christmas Day, a 23-year-old Nigerian man allegedly attempted to blow up a jetliner bound for Detroit. The incident consumed Obama's vacation, with the president receiving thrice-daily updates from the White House Situation Room and national security staffers briefing reporters, often at a moment's notice.
Despite the president's plans to stay under the radar while in Hawaii, locals were still likely to catch a few glimpses of the president during outings around town. Obama and his daughters have been regular visitors to Island Snow, a beachwear store famous for its shave ice — a version of what mainlanders know as snow cones.
Associated Press writer Audrey McAvoy contributed to this report.