It's Easter and the Obamas' doings are closely guarded

McClatchy NewspapersApril 10, 2009 

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama and his family are spending the Easter holiday in the nation's capital — but where, and doing what?

Church services Sunday? "He will go, but I'm not going to tell you where," Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters.

Later on Sunday afternoon, there's a tribute concert to the late Marian Anderson at the Lincoln Memorial, on the 70th anniversary of her concert there that was considered a major development in the civil rights movement. It's sponsored by the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission. Denyce Graves and the Chicago Children's Choir are among the performers. Colin Powell will speak.

It's the sort of event that's right up the Obamas' alley. But will America's first black president stop by?

The White House isn't saying. A spokesman for the event said the president was invited but that the early word was that he was going to be in Chicago, which he isn't.

As Obama navigates the first months of his presidency, the politician who promised more transparency in government but craves some semblance of a private life is still trying to find that balance.

That's been true of the Obamas' search for a local church to call home. Most of the vetting of roughly a dozen churches is happening behind the scenes, and Gibbs said that whatever church the Obamas attend this Sunday shouldn't be seen as a sign of which church they'll join as members.

The president and his wife especially have sought to shield daughters Malia and Sasha from prying scribes. The president and first lady are advertising their own participation in Monday's White House Easter Egg Roll, but there's been no word on the girls' participation.

Beyond privacy, Obama these days has an eye on protecting his own security and on causing as little disruption as possible for outside groups.

When word got out just before his January inauguration that he would attend a Sunday service at the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church, crowds jammed the church and many parishioners couldn't get in.

Aides don't want that to happen with Easter services.

For Sunday's church visit, the president is expected to be accompanied by a pool of photographers and reporters. At that point, his whereabouts will become public information.

In contrast, a Passover Seder that Obama, who is Christian, attended on Thursday at the White House was deemed a private event closed to the press.

Aides had been divided over whether to publicly disclose the president's attendance at all at the event organized by some of his staff who are Jewish.

It was mentioned in passing in an earlier memo to reporters. But the daily guidance memo for reporters released Wednesday night accidentally included a string of internal e-mail correspondence on the subject among aides, asking whether it could be left off the daily schedule and revealing that some area Jewish supporters were calling the White House wondering why they hadn't been invited.

Even with the economy in crisis and thousands more troops going off to war, public interest remains high in the family's comings and goings.

One popular enduring question: When will Malia and Sasha will get their long-awaited dog and what kind of dog will the family decide on to minimize Malia's allergies?

On Friday, Obama was asked again about the dog. He said: "Oh man, that's top secret, top secret. This is tightly held."

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McClatchy Newspapers 2009

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