Family vacation is no picnic for wandering Clintons

August 13, 1993|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Air Force One lifted off from Andrews Air Force Base yesterday with President Clinton aboard and his golf clubs safely packed, Hillary Rodham Clinton and first daughter Chelsea in tow, the neighbors -- or at least the White House domestic staff -- all set to feed Socks.

The president and the first family had everything set up for their vacation. Except a destination.

Late yesterday afternoon, after weeks of indecision, word went out from the White House advance office that the Clintons had settled on Martha's Vineyard, Mass. But since the sign-up sheet in the news media office for Jackson, Wyo., was still on the bulletin board, even some on the White House staff were cautioning that one could never be too sure about these things.

For now, it looks as if the trip will cover Colorado, California, Oklahoma, Arkansas and, finally, Martha's Vineyard -- but that beach retreat isn't until the middle of next week.

Asked why it is so hard for the president to pick a spot to recreate, one White House aide said, "You're assuming this guy wants to go on vacation. You've been here six months. You're just figuring out he's a little weird?"

Another, paraphrasing the Clintonites' in-house campaign-year slogan, "It's the economy, stupid," added, "It's a vacation, stupid."

But with Bill Clinton, it's not so simple.

For one thing, aides and longtime friends say, Mr. Clinton doesn't take normal vacations of a week or two where he forgets hTC about work. Diane Blair, a close friend from Arkansas, says she's seen the president float in an inner tube for an afternoon, or get lost in a mystery novel, but after a few hours he's back on the phone working.

On a recent trip, the splendors of Hawaii were only enough to enchant the president for a couple of days -- then he was off to the Mississippi flood. His wife and daughter, at least, remained in the Pacific.

Like those yuppie workaholics in computer commercials who pull off the road to call their offices with some bright idea or other, the nation's head policy wonk will work in a couple of business meetings.

Yesterday's trip included a stop in St. Louis to sign the papers for flood-related aid. Then it was on to Denver and the 15-minute face-to-face with Pope John Paul II; and from there, spending the night in California before a morning defense-conversion event at a Navy base in Oakland.

After flying back to Colorado, the president's schedule has him going to Vail for a day and a half, where he will play golf with former President Gerald R. Ford. He leaves Sunday for Fayetteville, Ark., to visit friends and play more golf. On Monday, he journeys to Tulsa, Okla., for the National Governors' Association meeting and then heads back to Fayetteville for another day and a half. He heads back to Washington on Wednesday.

Originally, the president was scheduled to continue his vacation for eight more days. But after Wyoming was scratched and the first family couldn't agree on a replacement before the plane left for Colorado, the Clintons decided to return before going out again next Thursday to spend a week or so in Martha's Vineyard.

Mr. Clinton's vacation indecision may stem, in part, from the fact that the president does not own a home or retreat of his own.

George Bush had his family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine; Ronald Reagan his Rancho del Cielo in the mountains above Santa Barbara, Calif. Gerald Ford had a condo in Vail. Richard Nixon had places in San Clemente, Calif., and Key Biscayne, Fla., at his disposal; Lyndon Johnson had a ranch in the Texas Hill Country; and John F. Kennedy had Hyannis Port, Mass.

The president has generally relied on the hospitality of others on the rare times he takes a break. During the transition, he went to the Santa Barbara-area home of Hollywood chums Harry Thomason and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason. After being stung by accusations he had "gone Hollywood," Santa Barbara was out. That led to the abortive Wyoming trip, which was supposed to take place at the ranch of Deputy Treasury Secretary Roger Altman.

"Too rustic," came the cryptic word from White House officials asked to explain the sudden switch back to the East Coast.

Disappointed hoteliers and merchants in Jackson were coping with a wave of cancellations this week. Meanwhile, the president's advance people were frantically trying to secure lodging on completely booked Martha's Vineyard for the news media, staff and security people who follow the president.

"It's been hell," said one White House advance person.

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