World news intruded on President Obama’s Vineyard vacation Wednesday, with briefings for the press and the president on unfolding violence in Egypt.
“The United States strongly condemns the use of violence against protesters in Egypt,” principal deputy press secretary Josh Earnest said at a late morning press briefing at the Vineyard Square Hotel, where the filing center for the traveling press corps is housed.
Standing in front of a butterfly bush buzzing with bees, with about 30 members of the press in attendance, Mr. Earnest issued a statement about the situation in Egypt, where reports say security forces killed some 300 protesters Wednesday and a monthlong state of emergency has been declared.
“We also strongly oppose a return to a state of emergency law, and call on the government to respect basic human rights such as freedom of peaceful assembly, and due process under the law,” he said. “The world is watching what is happening in Cairo.”
Several reporters pressed Mr. Earnest about whether the White House is reconsidering whether to call the removal of ousted President Mohamed Morsi a coup. “We have determined it is not in the best interest of the United States to make that determination,” he said. Senior officials have been in touch with their counterparts in Egypt, he said, and the Obama administration “will continue to hold the interim government accountable for the promise that they have made to speed the transition to a civilian democratically elected government. That’s what we would like to see in Egypt not just because of our firm belief in universal human rights, but also because it’s the will of the Egyptian people,” he said.
National Security advisor Susan Rice is traveling with the president, Mr. Earnest said, and briefed him Wednesday morning about events that unfolded overnight. He said the president will continue to be apprised of developments.
The briefing also briefly touched on a planned presidential bus tour next week, the ongoing issue of health care, and whether the president has seen the movie The Butler (Mr. Earnest did not know). Some asked if the president was using his time on the Vineyard to talk about possible candidates for the chairman of the federal reserve with friends and staff.
Mr. Earnest said a federal reserve chairman decision won’t be made until the fall. “I do think that the vast majority of the president’s time this week will be focused on enjoying a little downtime outside of Washington, D.C. on the golf course and with some friends and with his family,” he said.
Other questions focused on the president’s vacation, and Island complaints about traffic and disruptions during one of the busiest summer weeks.
“The president and his family have been traveling to Martha’s Vineyard since before he became president. And this is a place where they have spent a week or so at the end of the summer together as a family before school starts and before things get busy again in the fall . . . essentially, a family tradition that the Obama family is continuing this year to take advantage of that opportunity,” Mr. Earnest said.
He continued: “In terms of the impact on other people who are vacationing on the Island this week, in terms of the security measures that are in place, that’s something that’s determined by the Secret Service. They do work to minimize the impact that these security precautions have on other people. And that’s certainly something that the president and first lady are concerned about. Frankly, the president is hopeful that everybody has just as much fun as he does on the Island this week."
Mr. Earnest said the Obama daughters are not yet on the Island and will join their parents here later this week.
The president hit the golf course for a third day, spending the afternoon at Vineyard Golf Club in Edgartown at about 11 a.m. His golfing partners for the day were former U.S. Trade representative Ron Kirk, World Bank president Jim Kim and Comcast chief executive officer Brian Roberts, who owns a home in West Tisbury.
The president and first lady later headed to the home of Brian Roberts on the north shore near Paul’s Point in West Tisbury.