Image: President Obama
Mark Wilson  /  Getty Images
President Barack Obama left for Camp David Friday and are scheduled to vacation at Martha's Vineyard next week.
updated 8/21/2009 6:21:34 PM ET 2009-08-21T22:21:34

President Barack Obama left the White House on Friday for a 10-day vacation, taking with him the beloved family dog and leaving behind an acrimonious debate about a proposed overhaul of the nation's health care system.

Obama left the White House's South Lawn by Marine helicopter early in the afternoon for the presidential retreat at Maryland's Camp David. He and his family then head on Sunday morning to Massachusetts' Martha's Vineyard, where they will stay at a private 28-acre estate that rents for $35,000 a week. They are expected to keep mostly to themselves. 

The vacation will be a retreat from the contentious debate over Obama's health care overhaul, which has set back the White House's agenda. Aides say they don't expect Obama to wade into that controversy on vacation.

Raucous town halls on health care have dominated Congress’ August recess and prospects for bipartisanship have appeared to dim.

The biggest issue is a proposed public insurance plan that would compete with private insurers. Obama and members of his administration indicated this week that a public plan wasn’t an essential piece of a final bill, drawing criticism from some Democrats.

In their reach for bipartisanship, Senate Finance Committee negotiators are looking at nonprofit co-ops instead of a public insurance plan.

Golf on the agenda
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said of the president's vacation: "I think he's going to spend a decent part of his time relaxing with his family. There are no official events scheduled in the week ahead. I anticipate that he'll play golf a number of times."

But will be play golf with Tiger Woods, as rumored?

Video: Obama's Vineyard "I have no idea if he's going to golf with Tiger Woods," Gibbs demurred in the briefing room; the president simply flashed a grin and said he planned to play a lot of golf as he strode across the South Lawn.

It's just one piece of the frenzy over the first family's first vacation in office. Will he visit ailing Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.? (No plans yet, aides say.) Will he attend the rumored wedding of former first daughter Chelsea Clinton on the Vineyard? (No comment from the White House; denials of a wedding from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.) Will Michelle Obama again wear shorts that caught the eye of the fashion world? (No comment on her wardrobe from the first lady's East Wing.)

It's a private trip, aides stressed to reporters in a mid-afternoon conference call Friday designed to caution them to respect the first family's privacy.

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"Just to reiterate: It is our strong hope and desire that you all, during this family vacation, will respect the privacy of 8-year-old Sasha and 11-year-old Malia. This is a strong request by the first family," Gibbs told reporters, conveying a direct appeal from the Oval Office. Slideshow: Welcome to Martha’s Vineyard

"If the girls are out and about on Martha's Vineyard without their parents, it our strong desire that you give them their space and their privacy and you don't cover two little girls who are on vacation ... and are not public figures."

Preparing for special guests
Not public, but certainly popular. Already on the island, vendors are selling T-shirts with the first family's pictures and even promoting Bo, the first dog who will join the Obamas on the island. There are cupcakes and ice creams named for the Obamas and even cardboard cutouts of the president in storefront windows.

The Vineyard is small — just 23 miles long with a year-round population of about 15,000. It was a favored choice for former President Bill Clinton, as well as celebrities such as Ted Danson and Carly Simon. At least six presidents have visited while in office, say Vineyard tourism officials.

The Obamas are paying for their share of the vacation home; taxpayers are picking up the tab for security and White House staff, which is customary for all presidents.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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