Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Obama's Florida Trip: With BP Oil Spill Receding, Time for a Swim?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Obama's Florida Trip: With BP Oil Spill Receding, Time for a Swim?

Article excerpt

Obama is feeling pressure to take his shirt off and show the world that the Gulf Coast is safe for swimming after the April 20 BP oil spill.

Few things would say "the beaches are back" like President Obama tearing off his shirt and running into the surf at Panama City, Fla., during a brief vacation swing to the oil-spill-harassed Gulf Coast Saturday.

That's indeed the scene Gulf Coast residents are desperately hoping for as Mr. Obama and his family arrived in Panama City for a little downtime. The 27-hour trip preceding a jaunt to Martha's Vineyard, Mass., is an attempt to boost a flagging tourist economy in the wake of the BP oil spill.

Concern about oiled beaches and water quality - along with reports of some bathers getting sick - caused hundreds of thousands of vacationgoers to forgo the white sand beaches of the Gulf Coast this summer, costing Florida alone some $1.2 billion in lost revenues.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs wouldn't confirm or deny the president's bathing plans during a press conference Friday. "Why don't we all worry about what happens on Saturday," he said.

"[That] image does matter to us," Beth Oltman, president of the Panama City Beach Chamber of Commerce, told Fox News. "We cannot pay for that media attention - by just having the president of the United States in our Gulf will show so many different Americans that our waters are safe to come swim in."

Obama made remarks along those lines during a press conference Saturday in Panama City Beach. Part of the reason for the family visit, he said, was to show that Gulf Coast beaches are "clean, safe, and open for business."

"The governor [Charlie Crist] and the mayors and others invited us down to enjoy the beach and the water, to let our fellow Americans know that they should come on down here. It is spectacular," Obama said. "And not just to support the region, but also because it's a beautiful place to visit."

After the press conference, the president told reporters that he will take a swim this weekend - but no photographers or reporters allowed. …

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