WASHINGTON – On President Joe Biden's weekend to-do list? Moving.
Biden flew aboard Air Force One for the first time as president on Friday, but not on a trip to sell his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan or to confer with a U.S. ally.
He just went home, to Delaware, to help his wife, Jill, figure out what other “stuff” they need in their “other house,” meaning the White House.
’It’s a great honor," Biden said of flying aboard Air Force One as president. "But I didn’t think about it, to tell you the truth. I was reading the paper.”
He said he went to his home near Wilmington for the weekend "to see my grandchildren and to hang out with Jill to get the rest of the stuff we have to move from our house to the other house.” Biden's son Hunter also turned 51 on Thursday.
Biden flew even as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that Americans avoid travel because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The White House said the trip would be far less risky for Biden, who is at higher risk because he is 78, than the sort of commercial travel that people are being urged to put on hold.
“Any president of the United States, Democrat or Republican, obviously takes Air Force One, a private plane, when they travel,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said hours before Biden's inaugural flight.
Biden told reporters shortly after landing in Delaware that the plane was much like the one he flew as vice president for eight years, “only it’s much nicer.”
Biden has made controlling the pandemic the central focus of the early work of his presidency. His team has repeatedly emphasized that he will model safe behavior for the nation.
Any time the president travels, an entourage of support staff, security personnel and media travels with him.
The CDC's guidance notes that “travel increases your chance of spreading and getting COVID-19" and that the agency “recommends that you do not travel at this time." But it says people who must travel should first complete their COVID-19 vaccinations, if they're eligible, and wait two weeks after getting the second dose before embarking on travel.
Biden got his second dose of the coronavirus vaccine more than three weeks ago.
Biden and his aides have been meticulous about how they go about their business as they try to reduce the chances of infection among White House staffers. Mask wearing is mandatory throughout the White House complex, much of the administration is working remotely and the duration and size of meetings has been limited.
Biden also has made few appearances outside the White House complex during the first weeks of his presidency — all for official business or to attend church.
The trip for Biden, who spent decades in the Senate and eight years as vice president, marked his first time on Air Force One in more than 20 years. He flew to South America with President Bill Clinton in 2000 as Clinton announced $1.3 billion in aid to help Colombia battle drug traffickers.
For security reasons, the vice president travels separately from the president and relies on the more modest Air Force Two aircraft for out-of-town travel.
For the 25-minute flight from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland to the New Castle Air National Guard Base, Biden flew on the smaller C-32 model from the Air Force’s fleet.
It is a specially configured version of the Boeing 757-200 commercial intercontinental airliner, compared to the iconic VC-25A, which is a modified Boeing 747.
Biden's predecessor, former President Donald Trump, didn't hide his affection for Air Force One, perhaps the greatest perk of the job.
But Trump was not a fan of the Kennedy-era blue and white color scheme that is known the world over. Trump viewed the design as dated, too muted and insufficiently patriotic, and announced plans in 2019 to overhaul the color scheme using the colors of the American flag. He kept a model of his planned overhaul on display in the Oval Office.
Psaki has said that a new Air Force One paint job isn't on Biden's priority list.
“I can confirm for you here that the president has not spent a moment thinking about the color scheme of Air Force One," she said from the briefing room.
Madhani reported from Chicago. Miller reported from Washington.