Early lids, lighter duty: Biden schedule marked by fewer events, more getaways than predecessors

Biden has taken dozens of personal trips and spent all or part of at least 117 days of his presidency at Camp David, his home in Wilmington, Del., or his beach house in Rehoboth Beach, Del.

Updated: December 4, 2021 - 2:25pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

President Biden just had an unusual workweek — not because of any specific event but because his public schedule was busy.

From Monday through Friday, Biden signed bills, attended events, and promoted his legislative agenda by delivering speeches on a range of policy issues.

This hasn't been the norm. Since entering office, Biden's official schedule, which is made available to the media and the American people, has been lighter and included more time away from the White House on personal travel than his recent predecessors.

Often, the vast majority of the president's day is unaccounted for, with only one or two brief activities listed, according to a review of Biden's schedule. The president also spends frequent weekends at home in Delaware.

Biden has taken dozens of personal trips and spent all or part of at least 117 days of his presidency at Camp David, his home in Wilmington, Del., or his beach house in Rehoboth Beach, Del., dwarfing the number of days that Presidents Trump, Obama, and Bush were away from the White House. Biden has been president for less than 11 months.

Biden was working remotely on some of those trips, and presidential historians note that the job of the president doesn't stop when he leaves Washington.

Biden's schedule is "no less rigorous than that of his predecessors," said Mark Updegrove, the president and CEO of the LBJ Foundation in Austin, Texas. "[Lyndon B. Johnson] spent about one-fifth to one-quarter of his time at his ranch but was working constantly."

Presidents also need some ambiguity in their schedule and the ability to have private meetings not known to the public, according to Tevi Troy, a fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center and the author of "Fight House: Rivalries in the White House from Truman to Trump."

Still, frequent travel has certainly caused PR problems for Biden. Perhaps most infamously, the White House released a photo of Biden sitting alone at Camp David, conferring with his national security team remotely, as the Taliban seized Kabul, the Afghan capital, in mid-August. People close to the president said at the time they wouldn't have let him go to Camp David had they known how quickly the Taliban would take over Afghanistan.

The White House has also come under scrutiny for often calling a "lid" — an arcane term used when the president has finished public appearances for the day — early in the workday, sometimes well before noon.

The early lids are reminiscent of Biden's 2020 presidential campaign. During one week in September last year, the campaign called a lid at 9:22 a.m., 9.20 a.m., 1:02 p.m., and 8.34 a.m.

Beyond the lids, Biden's public schedule appears to be less demanding than those of his predecessors.

A review of President Clinton's daily activities found he slept little and had a frenetic schedule full of constant meetings and often worked late into the night.

Bush was in the office by 7:00 a.m. and stuck to a strict, disciplined schedule throughout the day, according to Troy.

In Bush's White House, "if you weren't early you were late," added Updegrove.

Obama was somewhere in between the fluid and rigid schedules of Clinton and Bush, the historians explained, and often read late into the night, while Trump started his day early and finished late. Trump's schedule was also filled with significant slots listed as "executive time," which Updegrove described as “anomalous.”

The Washington Post reported earlier this year that Biden usually arrives in the Oval Office just after 9 a.m. — late for a commander in chief, according to Troy.

This week, however, Biden's schedule was abnormally jam-packed — in part an attempt by the White House to show a president who is engaged, according to reports.

After a busy workweek, however, Biden left Washington to travel to Camp David for the weekend.

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