Obama says Air Force One travel is ‘not my choice' in sharp exchange

Click image to see more photos. (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

President Barack Obama on Thursday firmly rejected any criticism that his worldwide travel on Air Force One or his family's vacations have left him out of touch with Americans' struggles, saying flying aboard the famed official plane is "not my choice."

"The fact of the matter is, I think if you look at my track record, I'm raising a family here. When we travel, we got to travel through Secret Service, and Air Force One, that's not my choice. I think most folks understand how hard I work and how hard this administration is working on behalf of the American people," Obama told KMOV of St Louis. The interview was one of four sessions the White House arranged with local TV in states expected to be battlegrounds in November.

KMOV reporter Larry Conners had told Obama that some of the station's viewers "are complaining, they get frustrated, even angered, when they see the first family jetting around, different vacations and so forth, sometimes maybe, they think, under color of state business and that you're out of touch, that you don't really know what they're experiencing right now."

"Well, I don't know how many viewers you're talking about that say that," Obama countered. "We do hear from some," replied Conners. "I hear from all kinds of viewers about everything," Obama shot back. "I'm sure you do," said Conners.

The reporter's question closely mirrored a recent accusation from presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who suggested that "years of flying around on Air Force One surrounded by an adoring staff of true believers telling you that you're great and you're doing a great job it's enough to make you think that you might become a little out of touch."

A president's travel and vacations are always fodder for his critics, who inevitably decry them as wasteful or signs of idleness or detachment, and Obama has been no exception. His exchange with Conners was sent to reporters by the Republican National Committee.

The exchange highlighted another facet of White House communications. While Washington-based reporters sometimes complain that presidents get kid-glove treatment from their colleagues in the heartland--and White House aides count on being able to push their message a little more easily with journalists unaccustomed to speaking with the president--the fact is that such interviews can be every bit as contentious as those inside the Beltway.

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