WASHINGTON — A family trip to a Gulf Coast beach in mid-August swelter, after the worst accidental oil spill in U.S. history? Call it the vacation the Obamas feel obliged to take before they can enjoy the vacation they want.
Since May, President Obama has been imploring other Americans not to abandon Gulf tourism because of the BP spill. He's insisted that most beaches are fine and the seafood is safe to eat.
Now Obama is walking the walk. Well, more like speed-walking.
He, his wife, Michelle, and their daughters, Malia and Sasha, will fly this morning to Panama City, Fla. They'll spend the night, but they aren't exactly lingering. They're scheduled to depart Sunday afternoon.
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Later next week, the first family will head northeast for a 10-day respite on Martha's Vineyard, the island off Massachusetts — the real vacation they've been planning.
The family's scheduled Panama City stops and photo-ops weren't released in advance, except for the president's plan to hold a roundtable discussion with small-business owners. Neither was the answer to a question widely asked along the coast: Will the president swim in the Gulf of Mexico, thereby demonstrating confidence in the safety of the waters?
"This is an opportunity to highlight the notion that this important region of the country is still doing well and open for business," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.