In Delaware, Biden Indulges One of His Oldest Habits: Commuting

REHOBOTH BEACH, Del. — Everyone here has a Biden story.

Joe Mack, who owns the Double Dippers ice cream parlor, says President Biden likes to recite old Irish sayings when he comes in to grab a quart of chocolate chip. Susan Kehoe, the owner of Browseabout Books, says Mr. Biden and his dog Champ draw crowds of onlookers when they relax on one of the benches outside the store.

Kathleen McGuiness, the Delaware state auditor, has a photograph on her phone of her standing next to an aviators-wearing Mr. Biden near Rehoboth Avenue, the town’s main drag.

“They fit into the fabric,” Ms. McGuiness said of the president and his brood, who summered here for years before Mr. Biden bought a $2.7 million beach home in 2017 in the North Shores, a tony neighborhood one mile north of town.

Before the 2020 election, the Bidens were often a fixture downtown, the former vice president often tangling up people in conversations that sometimes had no end in sight.

“He wandered freely,” Mr. Mack said.

As president, Mr. Biden has made it clear with public comments — he has compared life in the White House to living in a “gilded cage” — and the frequency of his travel that he is still most comfortable in Delaware, a place where he can be on display and protected all at once.

The Bidens own a large home in a suburb of Wilmington, but Rehoboth, a laid-back beach town that sells French fries by the bucket and Biden-theme merchandise — including orange Gatorade-scented candles, crafted in homage to the president’s preferred drink — is one of his favorite havens. In the middle of tense negotiations with Republicans over an infrastructure package, mushrooming ransomware attacks against American companies, and plans for a coming trip to the Group of 7 summit in Europe, Mr. Biden departed for the beach to celebrate the 70th birthday of Jill Biden, the first lady.

Mr. Biden’s inclination to go home to Delaware is longstanding: During his 36 years in the Senate, Mr. Biden made it a point to travel back to Wilmington to spend most evenings with his sons, a habit that began after his first wife, Neilia Biden, and young daughter, Naomi Biden, were killed in a car accident.

At least for now, the Bidens have another reason: They do not yet fully trust the residence staff and security officials they did not directly hire, according to two people familiar with their thinking. (Many of the household employees are holdovers from the previous administration, which is common for new presidents.) The Bidens still have not installed a White House chief usher, who manages the residence. The Trumps’ chief usher, who was a former rooms manager of the Trump International Hotel in Washington, was fired on Inauguration Day.

For the Bidens, the White House has taken some adjustment. Delaware, on the other hand, takes almost none. Their home in Rehoboth was purchased after the president promised his wife that he would buy her a beach house with proceeds from a multimillion-dollar book deal signed after he left the vice presidency. (A plaque above the front door reads “A Promise Kept.”)

“I wanted it to be the kind of place where you can come in in your wet bathing suit and bare feet and I can just take the broom and brush out the sand,” Dr. Biden told Vogue in 2020. “And that’s what this is. Everything’s easy.”

On Thursday, a bike ride the couple took at the state park near their home stretched much longer than expected because the president kept stopping to talk to people, according to a person familiar with their activities. The first couple kept a low profile, though the townspeople were comparing notes about where the first couple might turn up.

At DiFebo’s, an Italian restaurant that is a favorite of Mr. Biden’s, patrons hoped the president would drop in for his favorite dish, chicken Parmesan with red sauce. (The first lady usually orders the salmon.) At the Ice Cream Store, a parlor near the boardwalk, tubs of Biden’s Summer White House Cherry sat waiting for consumption.

Not this visit. On a wooded lane in the neighborhood where Mr. Biden lives, law enforcement officials in black S.U.V.s restricted the flow of traffic. A Coast Guard ship in the ocean and the sight of burly Secret Service agents in summer wear were the only giveaways that the president was even in town.

When Mr. Biden and Dr. Biden returned to the capital, it was a rare reversal of a typical week for them. Aside from the trip this week to Rehoboth — his first as president — Mr. Biden has spent nine weekends at his home in Wilmington, and five at Camp David, the Maryland presidential retreat, according to a review of his schedule. Mr. Biden has swapped the train for Air Force One, sometimes leaving Washington on short notice for even shorter trips: Last week, he flew back to Wilmington for the afternoon to attend the funeral of a longtime aide.

Naturally, the fact that Mr. Biden enjoys coming back to Delaware — even in the middle of a presidential workweek — did not seem to surprise residents here.

“I think he knows his way around Washington and he’s pretty familiar with what he needs to do and where he needs to be,” Ms. McGuiness, who has known the Bidens for years — her sister used to babysit for the family — said in an interview. “Making a quick travel to the Wilmington home or Rehoboth home makes sense for someone who puts family as a priority.”

The first lady often spends less time in Washington during the week than Mr. Biden does. Before his travel weekends, Dr. Biden sometimes heads separately to one of the family homes in Delaware, or meets up with extended family at Camp David. She has also traveled alone to Rehoboth. Ms. Kehoe, the owner of Browseabout Books, said the Bidens were generally treated as part of the scenery.

“We try to treat them as if they were any other customer,” Ms. Kehoe said. “Which is a good thing for us.”

Convention suggests that presidents should stay close to Washington and be judicious with taxpayer-funded travel, but that concept was tested to its limit with President Donald J. Trump. Mr. Trump spent over 417 days at one of his properties, a travel habit that blurred the line between his family business and presidential duties.

Mr. Trump enjoyed the perks of being president, including the staff, the ceremonies, the planes and the presidential limo. Many of those perks are long familiar to Mr. Biden — he had a similar apparatus around him for eight years as Barack Obama’s vice president — but he has said the trappings that come with the presidency have made him uncomfortable.

“I don’t know about you all, but I was raised in the way that you didn’t look for anybody to wait on you,” Mr. Biden said of life in the White House during a town-hall-style interview with CNN in February. “I find myself extremely self-conscious.”

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