President Bush's Weekend Getaway

The president will make his 124th visit to Camp David since taking office.

January 08, 2009, 12:11 AM

July 6, 2007 — -- As the temperatures rise in Washington, D.C., many in the nation's capital make haste to weekend cottages or nearby beaches.

President George W. Bush is no different.

He will be spending his 61st birthday Friday as he does many of his weekends -- at the secluded, presidential retreat in Maryland known as Camp David.

Bush is continuing a routine that has become a big part of his presidency. Friday marks the president's 124th visit to Camp David since he took office in 2000.

That means Bush has spent more than a year of his presidency at Camp David -- 387 days, either entirely or partially, according to Mark Knoller, a CBS Radio White House correspondent known for keeping meticulous records of the president's vacation days.

"President Bush is among the most frequent visitors to Camp David of all our presidents," said Kenneth T. Walsh, author of "From Mount Vernon to Crawford: A History of Presidents and Their Retreats."

"The presidents feel a tremendous need to escape from the routines and the protocols and the burdens of office," said Walsh, chief White House correspondent for U.S. News and World Report.

"It's outside of the prying eyes of the media and the White House staff, so they can be almost by themselves," said Walsh.

Only one other second-term president has spent so much time at Camp David -- President Ronald Reagan spent virtually every weekend there for eight years.

Reagan made 186 visits to Camp David, spending all or part of 517 days there, according to Knoller. Reagan also used the retreat to host important guests, including former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Other presidents have spent comparatively less time at Camp David than Bush and Reagan.

President George H.W. Bush also frequented Camp David, often taking guests. However he spent less time there than Bush 43 because he lost his second-term bid to Bill Clinton.

Former President Jimmy Carter spent all or part of 376 days there, according to Knoller.

Carter famously brought Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to Camp David in 1978, which led to the signing of a peace agreement known as the Camp David Accords.

Camp David is located in Frederick County, Md., 60 miles north of Washington.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, seeking relief from the humid Washington summers, founded the retreat in 1942 and called it "Shangri-La."

Walsh said Roosevelt is actually the record-holder when it comes to presidents who have spent the most time at Camp David.

"Franklin Roosevelt was president for 12 years, and nobody's going to beat his record because he was just in office longer than anybody else," said Walsh.

President Dwight Eisenhower renamed the retreat Camp David after his grandson, David Eisenhower.

Camp David has been modernized during the Bush administration, due to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the ongoing war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The White House has installed secure teleconference equipment with live capabilities that allows Bush to be there more often.

"It's very heavily protected, so once the president gets to Camp David, it's like a resort for him," said Walsh.

Bush, an avid exerciser, recently installed bike trails at Camp David so he can now ride his bike in relative private.

Over the years, presidents have installed tennis courts, a swimming pool and a small golf course.

During Bush's 2000 presidential campaign, the former Texas governor argued he was a Washington outsider, and started his term claiming he would go to his Texas ranch every five to six weeks.

Indeed, Bush has made 65 visits to his Crawford, Texas, ranch, spending all or part of 418 days there, according to Knoller.

"President Bush gets away to his retreat at a very high rate," said Walsh. "He's one of the most frequent visitors to his retreat as compared to other presidents."

Bush's record is comparable to Lyndon B. Johnson's, another Texas president.

Johnson went to his beloved LBJ ranch in Stonewall, Texas, 74 times and spent all or part of 484 days there in his five-year presidency, according to Walsh.

In 2005, Bush was roundly criticized for taking a lengthy vacation of nearly five weeks away from the White House -- one of the longest presidential retreats in at least 36 years -- when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and left New Orleans engulfed in floodwater.

In a 2006 Washington Post article, former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said Bush's response to Katrina was one of the most damaging events of his presidency.

"It caught a tired White House staff off guard," Fleischer was quoted as saying.

Perhaps smarting from the criticism, last summer Bush spent just 10 days at his Prairie Chapel ranch in Texas, where he was dogged by anti-war protests led by Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq.

Bush has also been criticized for not being attentive when he was on vacation at his ranch shortly before the 9/11 attacks.

On Aug. 6, 2001, Bush was vacationing at his ranch when he was given the "president's daily brief," which contained a two-page section titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S."

Over the years, other presidents have doled out invitations to Camp David and their personal retreats as political incentives.

"President Bush feels an invitation to his ranch, because it's his home, is the most important gesture he can make to impress somebody or to try to court somebody to agree with him," said Walsh.

Last month, Bush invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss their disputes over missile defense and Iranian sanctions at the seaside home of former President George H. W. Bush in Kennebunkport, Maine.

Presidents argue they can think better when they are away from the White House.

"They find that they can get something approaching normalcy when they go to their homes, or their retreats or when they go to Camp David," Walsh said.

Bush famously came back from a Camp David visit and told advisers he had made the decision to invade Afghanistan.

"There's a long history of presidents going there to ponder the great questions of their day," said Walsh.

Research drawn from files of CBS News' Mark Knoller. ABC News' Ann Compton and Jennifer Duck contributed to this report.

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