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A White House Correspondent Gets Back in the Pool (Van)

On Saturday, the pool flew to Wilmington on open-backed Osprey helicopters, and when the president landed he overcame any urge to talk over the sound of the rotors. On Sunday, he was determined not to make news on the story of the day: How Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, whom he didn’t call for four weeks after inauguration, was returning the favor by ignoring his calls for some restraint in the military campaign against Hamas that was resulting in major civilian casualties.

So Mr. Biden kept his distance when he showed up at St. Joseph on the Brandywine for church; we were on the other side of an 18th-century graveyard from him, walking along a pathway at the edge of the worn headstones. We never even saw him when, a few hours later, he was dropped off at the Fieldstone Golf Course.

All this sounds like a waste of journalistic resources — which it is, until it isn’t. In my home office, I keep a photograph of President John F. Kennedy’s motorcade passing under a giant banner with the word “Sanger’s” — the Texas retailer my great-great-grandfather founded with his brothers — a minute before the assassination in Dallas. It’s a reminder that the full name of the enterprise is the “protective pool,” to make sure we are there if something happens.

And it has. One of the amused readers I heard from on Sunday was Ann Compton, the former correspondent for ABC News Radio. Ann and I shared pool duty on a trip to Florida with President Bush on Sept. 10, 2001. That night we were having dinner in Sarasota, Fla., with other journalists — Mr. Bush was in the next room with his brother Jeb — when I started wondering if listening to him give the same speech pushing the “No Child Left Behind” bill was the best way to use our journalistic resources.

“Oh, I don’t know, David,” Ann said. “I’ve been on some trips where it seemed boring, and then something really big happened.” The next morning, as I sat in the schoolhouse watching images of the twin towers while the president was listening to young readers, I got a vivid lesson in what she meant.

And there are less momentous but memorable incidents, too. Knowing I had spent years as a correspondent in Asia, Mr. Clinton talked with me for an hour on his last big trip in Vietnam, as he tried to sort out the power struggle underway in the country between those fighting the old war and those trying to move the country into the digital age.

On pool duty at a summit meeting in Sea Island, Ga., in 2004, I was the sole person, other than the Secret Service, with Mr. Bush as he awaited the arrival of world leaders. They were all late. So we talked, about whether he had abandoned Afghanistan for the war in Iraq, about Texas, about our fathers, who both served in the Navy in the Pacific during World War II. And it was with another pool (one I wasn’t on) that President Barack Obama declared his foreign policy North Star: “Don’t do stupid stuff.” (OK, the word wasn’t “stuff.”)

Over time, one hopes, a little more of the old Joe Biden will show up, a bit more revealing about what he’s thinking about on the weekends. (With Donald Trump, we rarely had to wonder.) And please, Mr. President, when I do this again, could you make some news?

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