President Obama and his family quietly left the Vineyard late Friday night, curtailing their vacation in anticipation of Hurricane Irene.
The First Family originally planned to leave Saturday, but Mr. Obama decided Friday morning as the hurricane headed slowly for the eastern seaboard that it would be more prudent for him to be at the White House, deputy press secretary Josh Earnest said at a press briefing that morning.
Marine One left the airport at 9:25 p.m. with Mr. Obama, his wife, Michelle, daughters, Sasha and Malia, and Bo, the family dog, onboard, landing about 10 minutes later at Otis Air Force Base. The President was greeted by a small group of people, including commanders from the U.S. Coast Guard, Army National Guard and Air National Guard.
The Obamas touched down at Andrews Air Force base just before 11 p.m.
Even if the First Family had left in daylight the public would not have been able to see Friday’s departure at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport as it was closed to the public, just as it has been the past two years. A group of cheering vacationers at Alley’s General Store in West Tisbury waved goodbye as the President’s 18-vehicle motorcade made its way from Blue Heron Farm in Chilmark to the airport.
Mr. Obama and his family stayed mostly under the radar throughout their nine-day visit to the Island, with frequent golf outings by Mr. Obama, a few nights out on the town and several visits to a private beach on the south shore in the Job’s Neck area of Edgartown.
When not hitting the links at Mink Meadows in Vineyard Haven, Vineyard Golf Club in Edgartown and Farm Neck in Oak Bluffs, Mr. Obama spent family time in familiar ways — bike riding in the state forest, playing at the beach and getting takeout at Nancy’s in Oak Bluffs. Mr. Obama also took the girls to stock up on summer reading, making a repeat visit to the Bunch of Grapes Bookstore in Vineyard Haven.
Mr. and Mrs. Obama dined at the Beach Plum Inn their second night on Island and at State Road on their last night, both restaurants the couple had visited in previous vacations. At State Road they enjoyed a three-hour meal at the farm-to-table restaurant alongside Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and wife, Diane, White House advisor Valerie Jarrett and her daughter, Laura Jarrett, and Vernon and Anne Jordan.
The weather was picturesque with warm August temperatures and clear skies for most of the Obamas’ visit, in contrast with last year’s vacation, which was plagued by gray clouds and rain for much of their stay.
Mr. Obama received daily briefings from his national security and economic teams, and was updated regularly on the uprising in Libya, the state of the U.S. economy and the 5.8-magnitude earthquake that rattled the nerves of much of the Northeast but little else.
In the end it was Hurricane Irene that dominated the end of Mr. Obama’s visit and ultimately prompted another early departure; in 2009, approaching bad weather and the funeral of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy cut short his visit by two days. Mr. Obama took calls throughout the week with the Federal Emergency Management Agency on the status of the developing storm, and as the hurricane rapidly approached the East Coast, Mr. Obama declared a state of emergency in New York and gave a briefing from Blue Heron on Friday morning.
He directed senior members of his emergency response team to “make sure that we are bringing all federal resources to bear and deploying them properly to cope not only with the storm but also its aftermath.”
Mr. Obama urged “Americans to take it seriously.”
“I cannot stress this highly enough: if you are in the projected path of this hurricane, you have to take precautions now,” the President said. “Don’t wait. Don’t delay.”
Mr. Obama did not comment on his travel plans at his briefing, but in an off-camera press conference at the Mansion House an hour and a half later, Mr. Earnest announced the First Family would be leaving Friday in advance of the hurricane.
Mr. Earnest also reaffirmed the United States belief that Col. Muammar Qadhafi’s “grip on power has slipped” and that it is “important that Qadhafi is held accountable for the crimes that he’s perpetrated while in power.” The jobs plan worked on by Mr. Obama and his advisors, scheduled for release after Labor Day, was also touched on in the briefing.
Mr. Earnest did not confirm the time of departure for the First Family, and the press pool was sent home for the afternoon until 8 p.m. A little after 9 p.m. the presidential motorcade rolled down the dirt road one last time en route to the airport.
The Obamas spent their last afternoon on the Vineyard at Blue Heron Farm. It was another bright sunny day, clear with a high of 83 degrees. Vineyarders quickly turned their attention away from the excitement of trying to see through the tinted glass windows of a motorcade whizzing by, to the habitual practices of preparing for a hurricane, at least for another year.