As wars rage in Gaza and Ukraine, migrants stream illegally into the United States in report numbers and an intense 2024 marketing campaign season looms, President Biden is mendacity low.
Here on tropical St. Croix within the U.S. Virgin Islands, the place Mr. Biden; the primary woman, Jill Biden; and their granddaughter Natalie are spending New Year’s week in a secluded oceanfront villa overlooking the turquoise Caribbean, the president is staying principally out of the highlight.
On Saturday, Mr. Biden made his first public look, venturing out to attend mass at Holy Cross Catholic Church in Christiansted, the biggest city in St. Croix. He and Dr. Biden later taped an interview with Ryan Seacrest, because of air on New Year’s Eve as a part of ABC’s “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest.” In the night, the president and first woman dined at Too Chez, one of many island’s prime eating places, and he afterward revealed his New Year’s decision.
“To come back next year,” Mr. Biden stated.
Republicans have roundly criticized Mr. Biden’s island getaway, which started only a day after he returned to the White House from spending Christmas with household at Camp David.
Several lawmakers accused the president of failing to handle the migrant surge alongside the southern U.S. border by taking time away. And on Thursday, when the White House introduced within the morning that there can be no public occasions for Mr. Biden that day as temperatures hovered within the 80s on St. Croix, an arm of the Republican National Committee pounced.
“Illegal immigrants are pouring across the open southern border by the tens of thousands every day,” the group RNC Research wrote on the social media web site X, including that Mr. Biden, “on his second vacation in a week — called it a day before noon.”
Julian Zelizer, a historian at Princeton University, stated that presidential holidays are just about all the time denounced by the opposing social gathering.
But even a commander in chief must unwind typically, Mr. Zelizer famous, and, these days, no president is ever actually unplugged.
“It’s not as if the president takes a vacation like many of us and just sits around on the beach or something,” he stated. “They go with their full presidential apparatus and they’re surrounded by their advisers.”
A White House official described Mr. Biden’s journey as a working trip. Jake Sullivan, the nationwide safety adviser, accompanied the president to St. Croix and has briefed him a number of occasions since arriving, the official stated, talking on the situation of anonymity to debate the president’s schedule.
On Friday, Mr. Biden condemned Russia for launching what he referred to as the biggest aerial assault on Ukraine because the begin of the warfare, and he issued an announcement warning that President Vladimir V. Putin “must be stopped.” Asked Saturday if he deliberate to talk with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine after Russia’s newest assaults, Mr. Biden replied, “I speak to him regularly.”
He additionally referred to as on Congress on Friday to approve nationwide safety funding for Ukraine and Israel, which has been tied to negotiations over border and immigration insurance policies, and White House officers stated the president was intently monitoring these talks, too.
Many St. Croix residents stated that, regardless that Mr. Biden was staying largely out of the general public eye this yr, they appreciated that his visits have helped spotlight the historical past of the island, which was as soon as dwelling to the founding father Alexander Hamilton. They described it as a unusual, warmhearted island the place stray cats are effectively fed at five-star resorts. In Lin Manuel-Miranda’s musical “Hamilton,” St. Croix options solely because the “forgotten spot in the Caribbean,” from which a younger Hamilton pulled himself out of poverty.
Mr. Biden’s go to is his second to St. Croix as president, however the Bidens have traveled there greater than a dozen occasions over time.
“He loves St. Croix, and we really love having him here,” stated Leonore Gillette, a retired schoolteacher who has lived on the island for 45 years.
“We certainly appreciate the infusion of activity,” stated Nadia Bougouneau, one other longtime resident who works on the Buccaneer, a resort that was stuffed to capability with Secret Service brokers and members of the media touring with Mr. Biden. The president performed on the 18-hole golf course on the resort final yr along with his grandson Hunter.
Several folks, together with the governor of the Virgin Islands, fondly recalled Mr. Biden’s visits earlier than he was president — and the Secret Service was not blocking miles of roads for safety. Back then, locals and vacationers stated they’d run into him biking, jogging or choosing up espresso at Ziggy’s, an island market and gasoline station on the east finish.
“We feel like he’s a Virgin Islander,” Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. stated.
“Before he was president, I would be downtown at night and see him in a restaurant, and I’d be sitting with people and say, ‘That’s Joe Biden.’ And people would say, ‘No way,’” he recalled.
These days, the governor stated, Mr. Biden’s go to gave him an opportunity to focus on a number of the points going through the U.S. Virgin Islands, which is closely depending on tourism and nonetheless working to get well from the hurricanes Irma and Maria.
Mr. Bryan referred to as the islands’ most critical problem a requirement to match 10 p.c of $15 billion in federal hurricane reconstruction assist. He stated the cash, and the power of the Virgin Islands to restore its water programs and different main tasks, may very well be jeopardized as a result of the federal government can’t afford the roughly $1.5 billion match. The Virgin Islands, dwelling to about 87,000 folks, has an annual funds of $1.2 billion.
Still, Mr. Bryan stated, he doesn’t view Mr. Biden’s New Year’s go to as one of the best time to make his case to the president.
“To be honest, I preferred it when he wasn’t president because he spent more time with me,” he joked, including that this yr, “I really try to stay away from him so he can get a chance to rest, because he’s going to need it to go into this election.”
Mr. Biden is getting into 2024 with a persistently low job approval score of 39 p.c, in line with December polling from Gallup, the worst of any modern-day president in search of re-election. Mr. Zelizer stated that makes the coverage challenges Mr. Biden faces within the Middle East and Ukraine — and with Congress — all of the tougher.
“All of this is going to be waiting for him when he comes back to Washington, and he knows it,” Mr. Zelizer stated. He added, “It’s going to be a tough year.”