WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden spent his third week in office visiting the Pentagon, touring the National Institutes of Health and working on the administration’s COVID-19 response.
He capped it off by beating one of his granddaughters at Mario Kart during his first presidential visit to Camp David, the historic retreat for U.S. leaders.
That’s what Camp David has traditionally offered presidents: a respite from Washington where they can shed their ties and relax with family. The compound in the Maryland mountains just 60 miles (97 kilometers) from the capital features everything from a bowling alley to an archery range.
It’s been used by every president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt first went there in 1943 as a personal hideaway and has been the site of major diplomatic negotiations and policy discussions throughout history, according to Michael Giorgione, who served as commander of Camp David for Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush and wrote the book “Inside Camp David.”
With the exception of Donald Trump — he generally preferred his own private clubs — every president has used Camp David “for a personal getaway, an escape from the clamor and the noise and the likes of the White House, and really go to this exclusive mountain retreat. That’s one purpose. And the other is to bring world leaders there,” Giorgione said.
When Roosevelt first arrived, the rustic retreat was ″a hide-out with little hot water and with brush growing to the windowsills,” former Associated Press White House reporter Dale Nelson wrote in his 1995 history, ″The President is at Camp David.″ Still, Roosevelt somewhat fantastically dubbed it “Shangri-La,” the name of the utopian community in the popular 1933 novel “Lost Horizon.”
When Dwight Eisenhower took over, he added a putting green and a new name: Camp David, after his father and his grandson.
Over the years, presidents made upgrades to suit their tastes. Richard Nixon added a heated swimming pool, and George H.W. Bush installed a regulation horseshoe range. Barack Obama, known for his love of basketball, built a court.
The compound also features a movie theater, skeet shooting range, horseback riding and tennis courts.
“I leave my troubles outside the gate,” Lady Bird Johnson, wife of President Lyndon Johnson, once said of the camp.
Biden himself told reporters before departing Washington for the compound that his main plans for the long weekend were to “just hang out with the family and do what we always do.” While presidents typically take the Marine One helicopter for the brief trip, weather forced the president to fly to Hagerstown, Maryland, via Air Force One, before taking a motorcade to the camp.