President Obama is by all appearances enjoying his post-White House life.
In the 14 months since he stepped out of the Oval Office, Obama’s moments in the spotlight have been few and far between.
But when he has popped up, he has appeared more zen and carefree while sporting a seemingly ever-present smile in Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE’s America.
“It’s obvious to most people who are watching that he is relieved to no longer be bearing the burden of the presidency,” said Josh Earnest, who served as Obama’s White House press secretary and had worked for him since the 2008 presidential campaign.
“I think there’s no doubt that he is more relaxed and more at ease and more unburdened than he’s been in a decade, and it shows.”
Obama definitely looked unburdened on a Saturday night last month after taking in Bruce Springsteen’s show on Broadway.
Tie-less, the former president stood beaming from his balcony seat at the end of the show, recently extended due to popular demand. Obama pointed down to Springsteen, and “The Boss” pointed back.
Friends and allies say that they could see a difference in the Obamas when they appeared in February for the unveiling of their paintings at the National Portrait Galley.
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“They just looked like they were enjoying life,” one longtime ally said. “They looked like they were reveling in the moment.”
The two portraits, both painted by African-American artists, differ greatly from the stately, formal portraits of other past presidents and first ladies — all of them white.
It’s now a top tourist attraction in Washington, D.C., with former first lady Michelle ObamaMichelle LeVaughn Robinson ObamaThe Hill’s Morning Report – Treasury, Fed urge more spending, lending to ease COVID-19 wreckage Budowsky: Michelle Obama or Tammy Duckworth for VP Michelle Obama urges class of 2020 to couple protesting with mobilizing, voting MORE’s portrait recently moved to meet the high demand.
It hasn’t all been parties and shows for Obama since he left the White House — though there have been quite a few.
Obama left the White House at the relatively young age — for an ex-president — of 55.
It’s an age that leaves time for business and free time.
The former president has been knee-deep in work on his foundation and recently returned from a dizzying weeklong tour to Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.
He has also been focused on his presidential library that will be built on Chicago’s South Side.
And friends and allies close to him say he’s been spending much of his time on his memoir, which will pay Obama handsomely. He and the former first lady reportedly received a record-breaking $65 million advance for a joint book deal with Penguin Random House’s Crown Publishing Group. There’s no release date yet for the book.
Obama also inked a deal last month with Netflix to produce a series of shows, a move that could put him more firmly in the public eye going forward.
Obama, whose soaring rhetoric helped lift him to the presidency, is cashing in on that skill.
While he’s delivered some unpaid speeches, he’s also been rewarded at a rate of $400,000 a pop for paid speeches — including to Wall Street firms.
Those speeches have come under attack by even some Democrats, who say the perception isn’t helpful to the party.
Katie Hill, a spokeswoman for Obama, said the former president’s speeches and events “remain true to his values and his record” even when he is compensated.
“Consistent with that, his paid events in part have allowed President Obama to contribute $2 million over the next two years to Chicago programs offering job opportunities and training to low-income youth,” Hill said.
Obama hasn’t been knee-deep in politics, even as Trump seeks to unravel much of his work.
Trump’s first year in office was focused on repealing Obama’s signature health-care law, and he has also sought to roll back his predecessor’s policies on global warming, immigration and financial reform.
Obama’s absence from politics may change in the coming months, as the midterm elections draw closer.
Obama will hold a fundraiser for his old pal Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillMissouri county issues travel advisory for Lake of the Ozarks after Memorial Day parties Senate faces protracted floor fight over judges amid pandemic safety concerns Amash on eyeing presidential bid: ‘Millions of Americans’ want someone other than Trump, Biden MORE (D-Mo.) in May. But those close to him say not to expect him to officially wade into campaign waters until the end of the summer.
Obama has purposely stayed out of politics for the most part, carefully selecting his moments to weigh in on headlines and policy.
He is careful, those around him say, not to be a foil for Trump — who often seems to feel a need to come after him. On Thursday, Trump hit Obama for leaving too many judicial vacancies, blaming him for his problems in filling them.
Obama rarely gives interviews, with the exception of David Letterman’s new Netflix show and a fun back-and-forth late last year with Prince Harry.
But when Obama feels it’s important, he resurfaces.
Recently, for example, after the high school shooting in Florida, he took to Twitter to voice his support for the students leading the gun control movement. He later hand-wrote a letter — which would inevitably go public — to the students at the high school.
“My sense is that he was watching what those young people were doing under extraordinary circumstances and was genuinely impressed and inspired by their maturity and their passion,” Earnest said. “This is an example of him wanting to use the influence and currency that he has to encourage the students in their efforts but also to hold them up as good examples of what passionate citizens can accomplish in a democracy.”
The Obamas bought a home about a mile from the White House so that their younger daughter, Sasha, could finish school in Washington, D.C. While the president frequently travels, he’s sometimes been spotted at local restaurants. Earlier this year, he officiated at a D.C. wedding for a former staffer.
If he looks relaxed, it might partly be because of the kind of lifestyle he can maintain.
Shortly after Trump’s inauguration he was seen kite-surfing with Richard Branson on Necker Island — images that went viral on social media.
Other photos showed him sailing in French Polynesia, reportedly with Oprah Winfrey, Tom Hanks and Springsteen.
“He’s kind of just doing his thing,” said one friend, who has spoken with the president several times since he left office.
The friend quipped that the bear is finally loose — a joke that began when Obama so desperately tried to pop the presidential bubble while he was in the White House.
“I think for him, not having that kind of stress, being able to determine his schedule and when he can venture out, that’s liberating for him.”