President Barack Obama is getting away from Washington for a few days to his home in Chicago, leaving behind Cabinet headaches and a partisan divide over his economic stimulus package.
Obama was to make a Friday afternoon flight with his wife, Michelle, and daughters to his chilly hometown, his first return there since taking office. Aides said he planned a low-key, four-day holiday weekend, including a Valentine’s Day dinner on Saturday with his wife and a likely basketball game with friends.
Congress this week reached a compromise on a $790 billion economic package that Obama had wanted to sign before he went on vacation. Instead, he was likely to see Congress pass it while watching C-SPAN.
“Diverse viewpoints are the lifeblood of our democracy. Debating them is how we learn from each other’s perspective. We temper each other’s excesses, we make better decisions,” Obama said Thursday in Peoria, Ill., where he stumped for final passage of the massive tax cutting and spending bill aimed at jolting the economy back to life.
“But the debate is now coming to an end. … It is time for Congress to act, and I hope they act in a bipartisan fashion.”
But even as he anticipated victory on the stimulus bill, he suffered a major setback when a third member of his Cabinet withdrew his name from nomination. This time, New Hampshire Republican Judd Gregg said he would remain in the Senate and decline a job running the Commerce Department, the second person to withdraw from consideration for the post.
“The one thing I want to make sure of is that people don’t take from this the notion that we can’t get Democrats and Republicans working together,” Obama told reporters after Air Force One landed in Springfield, Ill., where the president spoke at a dinner marking the bicentennial of President Abraham Lincoln’s birth. “I am going to keep on working at this and eventually we are going to break down some of these barriers.”
Obama aides say the president plans a weekend largely out of sight, his first real break since his inauguration on Jan. 20. Last weekend he flew by helicopter to the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountains.
During the time between his election in November and his inauguration in January, Obama stayed in his Hyde Park home and kept a predictable routine: gym in the early morning hours, breakfast with his family, then work at his office. He sometimes ventured out for dinner at restaurants or at friends’ houses, but that dropped off as he neared Inauguration Day.
Obama aides said they expected a similar agenda this trip, which was expected to last until Monday.