Michelle Obama and her daughter Sasha, 9, left President Barack Obama to celebrate his 49th birthday Wednesday without them -- they are vacationing at a lavish resort in Spain.
The first lady and her entourage landed at Malaga, on Spain's Mediterranean coast, at 10:30 a.m. local time Wednesday. There is enormous interest in the trip -- her arrival was well covered and news outlets set up camp in Marbella, where she is staying on her latest summer vacation.
Mrs. Obama and Sasha were invited for an "official" visit with King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia during their stay -- expected to last about four days. Spain's royal couple happen to be vacationing at their summer palace on the island of Majorca, and Mrs. Obama is likely to join them there.
English and Spanish news outlets are carrying pictures of a banner welcoming the visitors; it says, in English, "Thank you for choosing Marbella."
"We are really amazed about her choosing our hotel and coming down to the south of Spain, paying us such a wonderful visit at the best time of the year," Alicia Villapadierna told CNN. Her husband is the co-owner of the hotel. Click play below to watch CNN's video report from Spain:
The first lady is traveling with a small number of friends, who arrived on their own. While Mrs. Obama pays for her personal expenses, taxpayers pick up the costs of three shifts of Secret Service details and other security and support staffers, plus most costs associated with her Air Force plane.
With the rest of his family away from the White House, President Obama jets to Chicago on Wednesday afternoon to mark his birthday with a small circle of friends and spend the night at his home on Chicago's South Side. I'm told that Obama may dine at a favorite Chicago restaurant with his pals. The president was last home, with his family, over the Memorial Day weekend.
The main purpose of his return to Chicago is to headline three fundraisers on Thursday, generating more than $2 million to benefit the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Senate campaign of Alexi Giannoulias. Obama will also tour a Ford plant that is thriving, part of his administration's effort to highlight the rebound of the U.S. auto industry.
Mrs. Obama's Spain vacation is one of eight she is taking this year. She has no official duties in August, and whether she will jump on the campaign trail to help Democrats in the November midterms is still up in the air, frustrating Democrats who could use her popularity to help them in fundraising.
She is now at a world-renowned resort while the jobless rate is high and the economy is still struggling. By doing so she is tempting a backlash. Mrs. Obama is highlighting the beauty of Spain's Mediterranean coast before her weekend visit to Florida's coast later this month to encourage tourism in areas not impacted by the BP oil spill.
The East Wing argues that Mrs. Obama is not an elected official and, as a private citizen, is free to focus on her family and friends. Still, what she does will be perceived by the public one way or another -- the East Wing has to know that. Mrs. Obama has gone to great lengths so far to avoid any controversy in her tenure and as a result has popularity ratings in every poll much higher than her husband's.
She and her family and friends started the New Year in Hawaii, the president's native state, which the Obamas try to visit each year. Since then, Mrs. Obama has had, or will have, some quality vacation travel. The 2010 list:
1. March: Over spring break, Mrs. Obama, her daughters and mother, Marian Robinson, visited New York with friends and took in some Broadway shows.
2. Memorial Day: a weekend trip home to Chicago.
3. June: Mrs. Obama, her girls and her mother flew to Los Angeles for sightseeing.
4. July: A Camp David visit (though the presidential retreat can be considered an extension of the White House).
5. July: A weekend in Maine, sightseeing in Acadia National Park, part of an Obama plan to showcase national parks.
6. Aug. 4-7: Spain.
7. Aug. 14: A first family weekend planned on the Florida Gulf coast. The first couple have been trying to draw tourists to the area in the wake of the BP disaster.
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