For Obama, Family Trumps Social Washington

The Gridiron Club's Leubsdorf said that President Johnson threatened every year that he would not attend the dinner. One year Johnson declined the formal Gridiron invitation and his vice president, Hubert Humphrey, was sent in his place. But Johnson made a surprise visit anyway.

Obama has spoken at two previous Gridiron Club events, once at the more low-key winter gathering when he was a senator-elect in 2004 and then as a senator at the spring dinner in 2006.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is the featured Republican speaker this year and Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm has the Democratic honor.

Expanded Beyond Newspapers in 2004

The Gridiron Club started as an organization that was all-male and all newspaper writers. Membership in the club is by invitation only and there are 65 active members.

Longtime White House reporter Helen Thomas was the first woman admitted to the Gridiron and she went on to serve as the first woman president of the organization.

It was not until 2004 that the club expanded its membership to include broadcast, magazine and electronic journalists.

Out of Town but Not Far Away

There has been some grumbling in Washington that Camp David, in Frederick County, Md., is not really "out of town" and that the president could be back in Washington in less than 30 minutes on his Marine One helicopter, or 90 minutes by car, and still make a cameo at the dinner.

But for Obama, family has always come first, even during two long years on the campaign trail. He ducked off the trail to get back to Chicago for a Valentine's Day date with his wife, Michelle, or some quality time with his daughters.

"I think what he is saying is I understand I have a role to play as the president in Washington. My role as father trumps the symbolic role as the president," said Garrett Graff, editor at large at The Washingtonian magazine.

Graff notes that while Obama has hosted numerous social events at the White House in two months, including two formal dinners and several informal Wednesday night gatherings, he has done it on his terms.

"I think he's demonstrating with the Gridiron that tradition and the historical role of the president will only go so far with him," Graff said.

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