President Obama took a rare walk off the White House grounds Wednesday -- and clearly enjoyed himself.
Heading over to the nearby Interior Department with reporters and a security detail in tow, Obama doffed his suit coat and tossed it over his shoulder, proclaiming exultantly as he reached a wading pool, "The bear is loose."
And: "It's good to be out."
The remarks prompted a new Twitter profile: Bear Obama: Tweets by @BearObama
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On the path, the president inquired of tourists, "How's everybody doing?"
He was, however, the pool report of the trek notes, “decidedly less enthusiastic” to see the pool of reporters that tracks his movements close to him.
"C'mon guys,” he said, “You're not going to follow me the whole way?" He ushered them away, saying, "go on ahead. I want to have a conversation” and resumed talking with adviser John Podesta for much of the trip -- a visit to Interior to designate New Mexico’s Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks region as a national monument.
He did pause en route to chat with a small group of tourists. One man told him that it was his birthday and that he was visiting from Israel. “Happy Birthday,” wished the First Walker, inquiring where the group lived in Israel. When told between Tel Aviv and Haifa, Obama sent his wishes to all of Israel. Another group of tourists told him they were from China.
At Interior, Obama was introduced by Secretary Sally Jewell who mentioned that the president had walked over, explaining, “He needed to get a little outdoors.”
Obama drew laughs when he said he was “wistful” for the days when he could “go on a hike without a security detail behind me.”
Obama said the monument is the second national monument he’s designated this year and the 11th overall and drew his longest and longest applause when he proclaimed “I am not finished” in designating more space as protected. He accused Congress of “sitting on dozens of bills that would help protect our precious land and wildlife.
“So I’m here to pick up a little bit of the slack,” he said.
He wasn’t finished in greeting tourists either. On his return trip, he veered over to chat with a guy running a hot dog stand, then with a tourist family with two young kids. He gave each kid a box of White House M&Ms.
Closer to the Ellipse, he called out to some tourists, saying, “How’s it going guys?” When they seemed hesitant, he added, “We can shake hands. I won’t bite.”
To a sixth grader, he said, “Good to see you” and inquired about school and homework. Talking to a group of about 15 tourists, he was told that some were from Germany, maintaining the international profile of the tourists he had encountered. He then chatted with a woman from North Carolina, praising the beauty of the Outer Banks when she told him that’s where she lived.
Within an hour, he was back at the White House, ensconced in the Oval Office.
House Speaker John Boehner charged that the move to designate the area as a national monument “adds yet another challenge in our ongoing efforts to secure our Southern border. At a time of continued cartel violence in Mexico, we should not be putting any additional restraints on efforts to protect our borders.”