National

Obama's vacation not much of a break

VINEYARD HAVEN, Mass. —As the president tried to concentrate on his golf swing on vacation Wednesday, fierce fighting continued in Libya, officials were surveying damage from a 5.8-magnitude earthquake and Hurricane Irene was hurtling toward the East Coast. It's been hard for the leader of the free world to catch a break.

After a tumultuous year with a whipsawing stock market and U.S. unemployment hovering above 9 percent, President Obama and his family had tried to slip away for a 10-day retreat to Martha's Vineyard, returning to their secluded hideaway of Blue Heron Farm in Chilmark.

But even before he left Washington, Obama was under fire from congressional Republicans and his 2012 challengers, who feigned shock that the president wouldn't cancel his vacation in the midst of international and economic turmoil.

As it turned out, it has been an unquestionably busy week for the White House in this island outpost. Although White House spokesman Josh Earnest dismissed the Republican criticism as "cable chatter," Obama's aides have taken pains to show that the president has been busy and engaged as one calamity rolled in after the next.

As he has in every media gaggle this week, Earnest began the White House news conference Wednesday listing the many briefings the president has received on the conflict in Libya, Hurricane Irene and the latest economic developments in the global markets.

The first Vineyard photo released by the White House last week showed the president, hands clasped and brown furrowed, being briefed by his top counterterrorism adviser on overnight developments in Libya and other national security issues.

"This is a job that he's responsible for doing wherever he is, whether he's sitting in the Oval Office or whether he's caught on the golf course when an emerging action takes place," Earnest said during Wednesday's briefing.

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