NANTUKET, Massachusetts. Helicopters have been flying over the island’s boutiques and beaches for several days. Earlier this week, military aircraft offloaded government vehicles and other heavy cargo. And a wave of tidy Secret Service agents filled the otherwise quiet luxury hotels.
President Joe Biden arrived in town for Thanksgiving, and his family is not the only one accompanying him.
“Team after team after team people pass by with jeans and T-shirts, but then you notice that they have a small tablet with the White House logo,” said Jack Fritsch, who runs an antique warehouse near the local ferry dock. … “You will recognize haircuts. They are Secret Service agents.
The Biden’s decision to host Thanksgiving on Nantucket this year renews a family tradition dating back to 1975, when Biden and his future wife Jill spent their first vacation together. In his memoir Promise Me Dad, Biden said that the couple received several invitations to Thanksgiving dinner that year. Instead of disappointing anyone, they decided to take a vacation on the island with Biden’s two young boys, Bo and Hunter, on the recommendation of his chief of staff, Wes Bartelms.
“What you need is a nuclear Thanksgiving,” Biden wrote, as Bartelmes told him. “I mean only the nuclear family. Only Wes Barthelms was a guy from Boston, so he actually said, “Well, ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!
The Biden family now has a much larger family to travel to – including children, grandchildren, and in-laws. So they stayed at a house they had visited in the past, the home of David Rubenstein, co-founder of the private equity firm Carlyle Group.
White House spokesman Jen Psaki this week dismissed a question about the president’s decision to stay at the billionaire’s home after he ran as a middle-class protector and criticized the rich for failing to pay his fair share.
“It’s time to give up politics, spend time with your loved ones and talk about what you are grateful for,” Psaki said.
Before becoming president, Biden managed to blend in with the local crowd. According to locals, they can watch him walk the cobbled roads near the harbor in search of coffee or dive into the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean to celebrate the holiday.
“Obviously, when he was a senator, there was not much excitement,” Fritsch said. Even as vice president, “no one objected.”
But as President, Biden brought with him a dizzying array of security personnel, media and White House officials, not to mention a parade of family members: his children, Ashley and Hunter; Hunter’s wife Melissa; grandchildren Naomi, Finnegan, Maisie, Natalie, Hunter Biden II and Bo; and Naomi’s fiancé Peter Neal.
“There’s a bit of excitement,” said Noah Karberg, assistant manager at Nantucket Memorial Airport.
He noted that the island hosted former Secretary of State John Kerry and former Vice President Mike Pence. However, he asked his staff to stay a little later than usual for Air Force One’s arrival on Tuesday night.
“We have to fly a really big plane,” he said.
Rep. William Keating, Massachusetts, said his phone line was jammed with calls from residents about the additional security presence on the island.
“These are people who are used to famous people coming and going,” said Keating, representing Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, where Obama owns the home. “But I think it’s just entourage.”
The Biden family took hiatus from Thanksgiving in Nantucket in 2015, just six months after Bo Biden died of brain cancer at the age of 46. Instead, they went to Rome that same year. The family has since returned to the island from time to time, but did not spend Thanksgiving on the island in 2019 due to travel commitments associated with Biden’s presidential campaign. They stayed in Rehoboth, Delaware last year over fears of a pandemic.
“People missed him, but it was mostly sympathy,” Fritsch said.
The only thing the president cannot avoid during his vacation is a reminder of labor shortages hitting employers across the country, including at the local Faregrounds Restaurant and Pudley’s Pub, where visitors are greeted with a sign warning of possible delays.
Bill Pader, owner of Faregrounds, still recalls how an unfamiliar Jill Biden called the restaurant almost two decades ago and asked if he would serve Thanksgiving dinner for her family.
“I didn’t even know who he was,” Pooder said of the then senator.
Pooder said the Biden regularly choose his restaurant, which is adorned with Boston’s sporting relics, for Thanksgiving meals. They tend to get the usual: turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, and tarts. When he didn’t receive an order from the Biden in 2019, he called the first lady to make sure.
“He went to the answering machine and she immediately called me back and said, ‘No, I’m sorry, I should have told you,” Pooder said.
This year, instead of cooking for the Biden, Poodle has another task: to cook Thanksgiving dinner for 100 Secret Service personnel. He had already met with many agents and the Massachusetts State Police in the days leading up to the holiday.
“You can tell who they are because they say sir and ma’am,” Pooder said. “They say, ‘This is how we are taught.’ I say, “Good.”
However, he stressed that the locals were used to famous visitors and were rarely impressed. If anything, the president is unlikely to generate excitement from local celebrities.
“Belichick came here,” Pooder said with a smile, referring to Bill Belichick, head coach of the New England Patriots.