It was in that week each year for the eight years I covered him as a reporter that he gave me a spectacular gift — and he knew it.
I started covering the newly elected president in 2000, when I was in my 30s. Back then, as a reporter for The Washington Times, we went everywhere the president went — everywhere. If he went to Charlotte, North Carolina, to give a 30-minute speech on an airport tarmac, we went. Up at 4 a.m., an hour-long commute to Andrews Air Force Base, in place on the ground hours before POTUS landed, and there for hours and hours after he left — sometimes right through the evening news so network reporters could file live from the site.
We also went with the president to Texas every summer — often for a month — and every winter, too, over the holidays.
But here’s the thing: In December, we never left Washington, D.C., until the day after Christmas. Never.
Mr. Bush and first lady Laura Bush would always depart the White House a few days before the holiday and hunker down at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland. After a few years, I asked a low-level White House staffer why.
I still remember exactly what she said: “So all of us can be with our families on Christmas.”
Who was “us”? Hundreds and hundreds of people, that’s who. Sure, the reporters who covered the president, but also dozens and dozens on his staff, 100 Secret Service agents, maybe more, and all of those city cops required whenever the president’s on the move in D.C.
For me, that one-day delay was huge. My kids were 6 and 8 years old when Mr. Bush took office. When he went home to Prairie Chapel that last time in 2009, my girl was driving, the boy was 6 foot 1. But in the meantime, I was home for eight Christmas mornings, playing Santa, stoking the fire, mixing up hot chocolates.
That was President Bush. And every year for the past five, I’ve thought about what that meant to me. (By the way, some years, I got holiday duty, which meant I was off to Waco, Texas, the day after Christmas. But once again, the Bush White House had us covered: A press plane flew out with the president, and back then, reporters could pay $100 per family member for the plane ride. So sometimes, the family went along. For the kids, it was an adventure; for me, well, we were all together.)
All that changed with President Obama. No more press plane, for one. Reporters were on their own — so taking family was, say, $1,000 a pop. Not likely. And Mr. Obama would never delay his trip to his island getaway. He was off every year well before Christmas. Hundreds and hundreds headed off with him, leaving family behind.
No Christmas at home. Instead, the Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort. Nice, but not exactly home.
George H.W. Bush, who died this year at age 95, was just the same. Like Ronald Reagan, Bush was considerate of the agents who protected him and would stay in town on Christmas Eve so agents — and everyone else — could spend the holiday with their families. Like his son, he’d fly to Texas the day after Christmas.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first ran Dec. 30, 2013.
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