Answer Man

August 26, 2014

Answer Man: How many vactions do presidents take?

Answer Man

Got questions? You've come to the right place

Much has been made lately of vacations taken by the president. Supporters argue he has taken fewer than his predecessors. What is the story? How many vacation days have the Obamas spent in Illinois? -- D.W., of Belleville

When it comes to tracking presidential getaways, CBS News' Mark Knoller never takes a vacation.

For the past 20 years whenever anyone has needed info on the commander-in-chief -- whether it be rounds of golf played, speeches made or flights on Air Force 1 taken -- Knoller is the go-to guy. The veteran newsman says he spends 90 minutes each day converting the president's official schedule and other materials into a factual record.

"I'm sure there are errors in the logs," he told The Washingtonian last year. "But they're as close to perfect as I can make them."

With that in mind, let's look at some numbers. As of Sunday, Barack Obama has taken 20 vacations lasting two to 15 days each. In total, he has spent about 140 days on official vacation. In addition, Obama has made 33 visits and spent at least part of 84 days at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland, but Knoller does not count these as vacations.

By comparison, at this point in his presidency, George W. Bush had taken 58 trips to his Prairie Chapel Ranch near Crawford, Texas, where he spent all or part of 381 days. In addition, he also flew seven times to his family's oceanside compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, where he spent all or part of 26 days. And Bush traveled to Camp David 108 times for all or part of another 341 days.

Much is also made of Obama's golfing, but the two recent CINCs are roughly even with each playing about two dozen rounds, according to Knoller.

Bush did give up golf after the fall of 2003, saying it wouldn't be seemly for him to be on the course while American troops were dying in Iran and Afghanistan. But, for the record, he did get into trouble in August 2002 when, after denouncing a bus bombing in Israel, Bush said at Kennebunkport, "I call upon all nations to do everything they can to stop these terrorist killers. Now, watch this drive."

As for Obama's time in the Land of Lincoln, I hope you didn't blink or you would have missed it. Other than fulfilling official duties, Obama apparently spent just one night at his Kenwood/Hyde Park home on June 1, 2012, and even that was a few hours off from a fundraiser.

"I am sleeping in my bed tonight," Obama, who was not accompanied by Michelle or his daughters, told the Wall Street Journal. "I'm going to go into my kitchen. I might cook something for myself, putter around in the backyard a little bit."

Call me an apologist, but would time in Chicago for Obama (or any president) be anything close to a vacation? He'd likely either be holed up in his house like a fortress or cause constant horrendous traffic disruptions. I mean, can't you see them roping off areas of the lakefront so Malia and Sasha could play?

"Despite being 15 minutes away from my house, nobody would let me go home," Obama said of a trip to Chicago in May 2012. "I was thinking I would be able to sleep in my own bed tonight. They said I would cause even worse traffic. So I ended up staying at a hotel."

Obama is on course to spend about 185 days on vacation. How does that compare with other recent presidents? Let's take a look:

Bill Clinton: Enjoying his move from Arkansas, he spent 152 days of vacation in eight years, mostly on Martha's Vineyard and the Hamptons.

George H.W. Bush: In just four years, he went to Kennebunkport for 543 days.

Ronald Reagan: The popular Republican loved his Rancho del Cielo in Santa Barbara, Calif., spending 484 days there.

Jimmy Carter: The Georgia peanut farmer apparently kept his nose to the grindstone with just 79 days of vacation.

Lyndon Johnson: Like the junior Bush, Johnson loved Texas, racking up 484 days at the LBJ Ranch.

Dwight Eisenhower: Ike loved golf, but left Washington for only 222 days in eight years.

Franklin Roosevelt: In 12 years, FDR spent 958 days at Warm Springs, Ga., in part for swimming and therapy for his polio.

As I have said on other controversial topics, I'm presenting only numbers; you can argue over them as you will. However, Catherine Poe perhaps said it best in the Washington Times:

"To my friends on the right and left, some advice: Give a guy a break and let him have some down time without snide comments. Presidents work hard, harder than any of us."

Today's trivia

Who is Rodrigo de Triana?

Answer to Tuesday's trivia: In 1935, Charles Lubin bought three Chicago bakeries known as the Community Bake Shops. He then created a cream cheesecake and named it for his 8-year-old daughter, Sara Lee. Soon he was calling his business the Kitchens of Sara Lee. Consolidated Foods Corp. bought it in 1956 and renamed itself the Sara Lee Corp. in 1985.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or rschlueter@bnd.com or call 618-239-2465.

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