Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Obamas Moving To D.C. This Weekend

Even in a town where the hotels are swamped for the inauguration, it turns out to be easy to get a room if you’re the one being inaugurated.

President-elect Barack Obama and his family will move to Washington this weekend in time for his daughters to start school, aides said Tuesday. With the White House still occupied and the official guest residence unavailable, the future first family will hole up in one of the city’s most exclusive hotels.

The decision to come to Washington early will put Mr. Obama in the very place he has avoided since his election and will increase the spotlight on him as he tries to prepare for the presidency without yet assuming its burdens. Except for an afternoon visit with President Bush at the White House on Nov. 10, Mr. Obama has stayed away from Washington during the transition, spending his time in Chicago and Hawaii instead.

Mr. Obama, who wraps up his Oahu vacation on New Year’s Day, will hold meetings in Washington next week on how to revive the faltering economy, according to the transition officials, who insisted on anonymity to discuss unannounced plans. On Wednesday Mr. Obama will attend a White House luncheon to which Mr. Bush also invited all the former president.

The president-elect will arrive just before the new Congress is sworn in Tuesday and begins work on the economic package he wants to sign after he is inaugurated Jan. 20.

Although Mr. Obama served in the Senate for the last four years, he spent little time out of session in Washington and never moved his family from Chicago.

Other new presidents arriving from out of town have waited until closer to their inaugurations. Jimmy Carter came the day before his swearing in and Ronald Reagan six days before his. Bill Clinton staged a day-long trip to Washington three days before his ceremony, retracing the route Thomas Jefferson took from his home outside Charlottesville, Va.

Mr. Obama too has arranged for a symbolic arrival, in his case on a train trip starting in Philadelphia on Jan. 17. But Sidwell Friends, the private school where he is sending his daughters, Malia and Sasha, begins classes on Monday after its holiday break, so the family decided to pack up and move Saturday or Sunday.

The Obama team inquired about staying in Blair House, the government mansion across Lafayette Park from the White House. But the White House said it was already booked for events until Jan. 15, when it traditionally becomes available to a president-elect.

The Obama team instead found a hotel with a suite large enough for the presidential family until they move to Blair House. Transition officials would not identify which hotel because of security concerns.