‘Go Get Your Bathing Suits!’: Biden Takes a Vacation as Washington Beckons
KIAWAH ISLAND, SC — During a week’s vacation in South Carolina, President Biden had a message for reporters camped nearby, raving about his recent legislative victories and Washington’s particularly heated political news cycle.
“Go get your bathing suits!” shouted Mr. Biden Sunday, wearing his signature Ray-Ban sunglasses and a big smile as he biked down the beach with the first lady, Jill Biden.
While Washington was in turmoil over last week’s disclosure of a federal investigation into former President Donald J. Trump’s handling of sensitive documents and possible violations of the Espionage Act, Biden has done everything he can to keep the chaos at bay.
Presidents often try to find time – but rarely succeed – to take a break from the day-to-day responsibilities of their office. In modern times, presidential holidays often provide periods of relaxation punctuated by moments of crisis.
Last year, one of Mr Biden’s trips was canceled when the United States withdrew from Afghanistan. This time, a rebound case of the coronavirus thwarted his summer plans for two weeks.
President George W. Bush, who often fled to his ranch in Crawford, Texas for vacations, was there in the summer of 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans directly. He was also in Crawford in 2001 when intelligence agencies warned months before 9/11 of a possible attack by Al Qaeda.
In the summer of 2014, President Barack Obama was on his way to the golf course on his first day of vacation on Martha’s Vineyard when news came that James Foley, an American journalist, had been beheaded by Islamic State terrorists. Obama held a press conference on the island and then continued his golf game, being criticized for appearing insensitive.
Mr Trump ordered a missile strike against Syria during a break at his resort in Mar-a-Lago in retaliation for President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons in that country’s civil war.
Biden returned to Washington on Tuesday for a short stop to sign one of his historic achievements as president: the Inflation Reduction Act, aimed at lowering the cost of prescription drugs and combating climate change.
But he planned to take off again Tuesday evening to Wilmington, Del., to continue his summer vacation in his home state for another week. (Dr. Biden was left in South Carolina, isolated after a positive coronavirus test Tuesday morning.)
Mr. Biden often travels back to Delaware, even during busy periods, to spend time with family and enjoy a kind of privacy that is hard to find in the White House. But Kiawah Island, about 40 minutes south of Charleston, proved to be a real haven for the Biden family, unlike the laid-back Delaware coastal town of Rehoboth Beach, where he and the first lady own a beach house.
While Rehoboth’s bustling boardwalk is lined with vendors leaning into the Biden compound and even selling themed merchandise, Kiawah Island’s tranquil shore is dotted with well-maintained mansions. Most of the residences and the island’s famous beach resort and golf course are located behind a strict security checkpoint where guests must apply for an access pass before they even arrive.
The president and first lady, along with their son Hunter, daughter-in-law and grandchildren, stayed at a sprawling beachfront estate owned by a friend, where they stayed on previous visits to the island, the White House said. The home was shielded from the street by a winding driveway and dense greenery, and the Secret Service had reportedly cordoned off a stretch of beach.
The White House did not outline Mr Biden’s activities over the past week, but aside from a trip to the golf club for a quick shot of digital material for the White House, he ventured alone for Mass at a local Catholic church on Saturday night. bike ride on Sunday and a trip to the island’s beach club on Monday evening.
Biden has deep ties to South Carolina dating back to his close relationship with Ernest F. Hollings, the former Democratic state senator who helped Biden stay in the Senate after the 1972 car accident that killed his first wife and daughter.
“It’s very serene, and as a result I think he’s found peace there over the years,” said Richard Harpootlian, a South Carolina senator who has known the president for decades. “I think it’s the perfect way for him to decompress from all of Washington’s atrocities.”
Local residents indicated that they were happy to let the first family holiday take place in peace.
“We’re not making a fuss,” said Linda Malcolm, a resident of Kiawah Island and the owner of a local bookstore where some members of the Biden family — but not the president — spent time shopping on Sundays. “They also deserve some rest.”
Ms. Malcolm acknowledged there were concerns on the island about possible disruptions to the president’s trip, but she said they were largely unfounded.
Mr Biden’s flights caused some delay at Charleston International Airport as Joint Base Charleston shares its airport with the commercial airport. But on the way in, Mr. Biden flew in Marine One from the international airport to a smaller airport less than half an hour away from where the family was staying, a move that prevented street closures in downtown Charleston.
And the president’s motorcade caused only a minor traffic jam during its only excursion of the island on Saturday. Curious drivers were quick to pull out their phones, while pedestrians and cyclists waved merrily as he passed.
Caitlin Tuten-Rhodes, 32, who like many locals vaguely recalls Biden’s past trips to the area as vice president, said Charleston and Kiawah Island have long attracted well-known celebrities and politicians.
But it’s still a thrill, she said, to know she might run into Mr. Biden in town.
“How often do you see a president,” Mrs. Tuten-Rhodes said, “even if it’s from a distance?”