The Obama family is spending Christmas and New Years in President Obama's native Hawaii and the schedule for the next few days has no public events. Obama has no "home" church in Honolulu from his youth, and the Obamas have only attended church services in Washington three times in the past year.
The Obama family quit Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ during the presidential campaign because of the controversies surrounding the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. So you may wonder, will the Obamas attend church services on Christmas? What will he be doing in Hawaii between now and Jan. 3, when the family is scheduled to return?
Church seems iffy. Golf seems certain, based on past vacations and the Chicago friends who will be with him in Hawaii.
"I think details about the first family's Christmas plans are going to be on a need to know basis," deputy White House press secretary Bill Burton said during a briefing on Air Force One en route to sunny Hawaii from snowy Washington. Obama departed after the Senate Democrats passed a sweeping health care bill.
The subject of whether the Obamas will be attending church on Christmas -- and their search for a new congregation -- came up during Tuesday's briefing with White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.
"I don't know what the president's schedule is," Gibbs said, adding, "some of that is up in flux. The president has, as you all know and as we've discussed, attended fairly regularly up at Camp David a church that he's comfortable in and has enjoyed attending. The president also understands that whenever he does go to church it's, in many ways -- there are a number of inconveniences that other parishioners have to go through, and the president has tried in many ways to minimize that."
Let me point out that is a nuanced difference from the statement Gibbs made last June when he discussed the Obamas church status, triggered by a Time magazine story that asserted the family stopped a search for a new church. When Obama quit Trinity, he said at the time he would seek another church to join.
Back in June Gibbs relied on the word "formal" in his statement to give himself some wiggle room. "He's -- there have been no formal decisions about joining a church. I think I've mentioned in here, in the past couple of weeks, that when he goes to Camp David, he has attended services at the chapel there. He enjoys the pastor there.
"They're not formally joining that church. And there have been no formal decisions on joining a church in this area. I will say, I think, one aspect of the article that is true, as I mentioned here in that same discussion, was the concern that the president continues to have about the disruptive nature of his presence on any particular Sunday in some churches around the area.
"I think that was discussed in the article. And I know he's -- I think obviously he shares the strong belief that there's a very personal nature to one's spirituality. And for it to be -- for his presence to be disruptive, I think, he believes that takes away from the experience that others might get and certainly doesn't want to do that."
Asked if the search was continuing, Gibbs said in that June briefing. "Well, no. I think they'll continue to look for a formal church home. I think when he's at Camp David, he'll continue to go to the chapel there. He has told us that he greatly enjoys that."
The passage of time seems to have answered the question. Living in Washington for the past 11 months, the Obamas have not joined a church. For Time's
latest article on the Obamas and church click here.
Now as to whether a president is ever on vacation, Gibbs, in answer to that question, said Tuesday, "I don't have the schedule -- like I said, I don't have the schedule in front of me. I would hit on the point that you did in the premise of your question, which is rarely are presidents on vacation. I went to Hawaii with then-candidate Obama and I would mention that national party nominees are not also on vacation much either.
"I think the president has, in discussions with his team here, if there are updates regarding and surrounding health care, that he's obviously always available. The president will continue to get daily intelligence updates and security updates, as he does here and when he travels abroad, and will have obviously an extensive network of whatever is needed to stay on top of whatever situations happen."
Burton, on Air Force One, said Obama would be meeting up in Hawaii with Chicago pals Marty Nesbitt and Eric Whitaker and their families. Senior White House adviser and Obama pal Valerie Jarrett told me she will be joining them in Hawaii.
Burton said Obama does not have much on his agenda -- public or private.
"When I said that there were no scheduled public events, there also aren't a lot of scheduled private events. I think the president is going to wake up and see where the day takes him. I've checked out the forecast for the entire time we're there: tomorrow it's 81 and sunny; Friday it's 81 and sunny; Saturday it's 81 and sunny. So I think that the weather ought to lend itself to some outdoor activity."
Burton was asked what the president and the first family will be doing on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
"I don't know specifically what's on their agenda this year. They obviously have dinner together and there's exchanging of presents. They'll enjoy some of the same traditions that they've enjoyed over the past years when they go to Hawaii. They see some of their friends. There will be some friends from Chicago who come, like the Nesbitts and the Whitakers. And I think he'll just try to enjoy Christmas the way his family has traditionally enjoyed it. This is an opportunity for the president to recharge his batteries, knowing that as president you never really get to power off all the way."