Vineyard Vacation: Obamas Arrive Amid Whispers of Kennedy Visit

WH: Obama has 'no plans' to see Kennedy; Secret Service visited compound.

ByABC News
August 23, 2009, 12:50 AM

Aug. 23, 2009 — -- President Obama and his family have arrived on Martha's Vineyard Sunday afternoon, having delayed their vacation by a few hours today to make sure Hurricane Bill had moved past the island.

A tropical storm warning for the Massachusetts coast was cancelled Sunday morning, but the first family will likely bring a frenzy of a different kind to the beach.

Already whispers are swirling that Obama plans to pay a visit to ailing Sen. Ted Kennedy this week in Massachusetts.

Today, the U.S. Secret Service visited the Kennedy compound, ABC News learned -- though the White House said there are "no plans" for an Obama-Kennedy meeting.

Obama has also left behind a political storm in the nation's capital as he takes his week-long vacation.

Besides being an elder statesman for the Democratic Party, Kennedy is considered a champion of health care reform, and his lawmakers have felt his absence from Washington during the debate.

Today on "This Week", Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Obama's opponent in the 2008 presidential race, suggested Kennedy may have been able to smooth out some of the friction over health care.

"No person in that institution is indispensable, but Ted Kennedy comes as close to being indispensable as any individual I've ever known in the Senate because he had a unique way of sitting down with the parties at a table and making the right concessions, which really are the essence of successful negotiations," McCain said.

"So it's huge that he's absent, not only because of my personal affection for him, but because I think the health care reform might be in a very different place today."

Obama kept fighting battles over health care reform right up until his vacation. He used his weekly address Saturday to defend his highly contested health care plan and refute the claims against it.

"We've all heard the charge that reform will somehow bring about a government takeover of health care," Obama said. "I know that sounds scary to many folks -- it sounds scary to me, too. But here's the thing: It's not true."

Today, however, the first family left the White House and Washington behind, trading suits and skirts for flip flops and sunglasses.

The vacation marks the first full week off for President Obama since he took office in January and the first real family vacation for the Obama family.

First lady Michelle Obama and daughters Malia, 11, and Sasha, 8, have accompanied the president on jaunts overseas, but they have mostly kept their own schedule on those trips, taking in the sights and sounds of Europe while the president attended events and meetings.

Except for a few weekends at Camp David, and quick trips to Chicago and New York City, the president has stayed close to the White House, so this week's trip will be a true vacation, a break from policy and politics. That is if world events cooperate with his vacation plan.

Obama has no public events on his schedule for the week, and aides said he was not planning to meet with staff on health care. The White House will rely on surrogates to keep the message going while the president is out of the public eye.

In an interview earlier this summer, Obama defended his taking a vacation at a time when many Americans are out of work or struggling in the weakened economy.

"Do I think the American people think that because of those hardships I shouldn't spend some quality time with my daughters?" Obama said on July 21 when asked if he felt "guilty" taking the time off. "I don't think that's what the American people think about it."

Republican strategist Kevin Madden said presidents deserve some time off to recharge their batteries.

"Every American should consider it in the context of their own job. Consider how stressful it is and then multiply that by 100 and then ponder the idea of not getting to take a vacation," he said.

John Fortier, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said that presidents certainly deserve vacations, but like everything else in their lives, there are factors to consider.

"They have very demanding jobs and they are in the spotlight. But it's a political calculation as to where they go and what they should be seen doing," he said.

Madden noted that a presidential vacation can bring reward, but also risk.

"The main consideration here are the images: a presidential vacation can help the way it did for President Clinton when he visited the Grand Tetons, which are in a majestic national park setting," he said. "But you can also mistakenly convey a sense of detachment if the predominant image is one of a president on a gas-guzzling speedboat off the coast of Maine like President George H. W. Bush during the first Persian Gulf War."

What is the risk for Obama? Madden said he could look sheltered, vacationing on an expensive estate, and detached if he sits on a beach while the health care debate and other key issues continue to roll on without him.