WEST TISBURY, Mass — President Barack Obama ditched the Beltway grind Thursday to seek the pleasures of summer on the beaches of Martha's Vineyard, his leisure time competing with a stock market plunge, fears of global recession and restless voters demanding jobs.
The president arrived on this wealthy Massachusetts island retreat Thursday afternoon, where he was joining first lady Michelle Obama and their daughters, Sasha and Malia. They are to spend 10 days in a rented compound.
The departure came after a busy morning in which the president called for Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down and imposed sanctions on the beleaguered Mideast regime. He then met with members of his economic team, which is preparing a jobs package that the president intends to announce shortly after Labor Day.
Obama departed Thursday afternoon wearing business attire — gray suit and tie — that belied his resort destination. Obama was traveling with a handful of aides, including his counterterrorism chief, John Brennan. Though his family was awaiting him on Martha's Vineyard, the family dog, Bo, traveled with the president on Air Force One.
Republicans complained that the president should stay in Washington to work on the faltering economy.
Criticism of presidential vacations seems unavoidable, but this time Obama leaves with the economy in a particularly precarious state. Morgan Stanley economists warned Thursday that the U.S. and European economies are "dangerously close" to a recession, and Gallup this week put Obama at the lowest approval rating of his presidency in terms of handling the economy — a measly 26 percent.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the president would continue meeting with economic advisers throughout his vacation as he prepares for his September jobs speech.
"The president of the United States is the president of the United States wherever he goes," Earnest said. "I don't think the American people begrudge the president spending a little time with his wife and daughters at the end of the summer before his daughters head back to school."
Obama's vacation will also keep him absent just as the GOP presidential field, led by Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, mounts an ever louder attack on his policies. Romney is among those who've called on Obama to cancel his vacation and stay in Washington.
The foundering economy and 2012 presidential politics will await Obama when he returns to Washington at the end of next week prepared to give a major economic speech after Labor Day to lay out new jobs initiatives and call for action from Congress, which is also on its annual summer recess.
Until then, Obama, who just returned from a three-day Midwest bus trip focused on the economy, may be hoping for a relatively uneventful break.
As they did last year, the Obamas will stay at the Blue Heron Farm, a multimillion-dollar hideaway with its own gym, basketball court, guesthouse and stretch of beach. Obama last year spent his days on the golf course with a few buddies, venturing out on occasion for a beach picnic with the family, to local restaurants with Michelle and to take Sasha and Malia to a bookstore to pick up some summer reading.
Accustomed to vacationing presidents — it will be Obama's third straight year on the island and Bill Clinton spent time there, too — the locals were welcoming and unobtrusive — no doubt a welcome change from Obama's foes on Capitol Hill and on the campaign trail.