The new US first family settled into their new lives in the White House on Thursday as US President Barack Obama won an important personal victory: He can keep his BlackBerry communicator.
Obama will be the first sitting president to use e-mail, and he has been reluctant to part with his ever-present handheld device.
Its use will be limited to keeping in touch with senior staff and personal friends, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.
And though Gibbs said Obama had to ask at one point where to go next in his “pretty big house,” he also said the president was enjoying living above the shop and had time for dinner with the family on Wednesday.
“I think that obviously means a lot to him as a father,” Gibbs said.
It was back to business for daughters Sasha and Malia, too, who returned to the private Sidwell Friends School on Thursday.
The girls were allowed to play hooky on Wednesday after a late-night scavenger hunt at the White House that ended when they opened a door and found their favorite band, the Jonas Brothers.
But two days of frivolity was, apparently, enough. First lady Michelle Obama had no public schedule for the rest of the week as she helped the girls adjust, said Mrs Obama’s spokeswoman, Katie McCormick Lelyveld.
“Her primary focus this week is getting the kids settled. She is focused entirely on getting unpacked and getting the kids up and running,” McCormick Lelyveld said.
Both girls were excited to get their rooms set up, McCormick Lelyveld said. Mrs Obama has worked hard throughout the transition to maintain a strong routine for Sasha, seven, and Malia, 10.
“I know the family’s moved now three times in only a few weeks. But if you know them and you know their family, they’ve had a routine for a long time,” Gibbs said. “This is a monumental testament to Michelle.”
The monumental testament to her husband? He won the BlackBerry battle.
Gibbs joked that the development was “almost as exciting as the presidential dog.” He poked fun at the White House press corps for stirring at the news during his briefing: “Let’s make sure the pen still works.”
But the BlackBerry victory is a big concession. Obama said earlier that he was working with the Secret Service, lawyers and White House staff to keep the device.
Gibbs said the president would limit its use and that security had been enhanced. Only a small number of senior staff members and personal friends would be given his e-mail address.
Previous presidents chose not to use e-mail because it can be subpoenaed by Congress and courts and may be subject to public records laws. And Gibbs said the presumption from the White House counsel’s office is that Obama’s e-mails will be subject to the Presidential Records Act, which requires the National Archives to preserve presidential records.
He also said, however, that exceptions are made for “strictly personal communications.”
Obama has been seen often checking his e-mail on his handheld device, even when it meant getting his hands slapped by Michelle during his daughter’s soccer game.
Former US presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton did not e-mail while in office, although Bush was an active e-mailer before becoming president.
That was before the era of the BlackBerry, a device now ubiquitous in Washington and precious to Obama.
When asked during the campaign about his worst habit, Obama said: “Checking my BlackBerry.”
Gibbs said the president believes that using the device is an effective way to keep in touch with people without “getting stuck in a bubble.”
Those who have access to the president’s e-mail will be briefed about appropriate communications, Gibbs said.
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