Washington Post, Author at Florida Politics

Washington Post

“Democracy Dies in Darkness." Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Harvard study estimates at least 4,645 people died as a result of Hurricane Maria. The official death toll is 64.

At least 4,645 people died as a result of Hurricane Maria and its devastation across Puerto Rico last year, according to a new Harvard study released Tuesday, an estimate that far exceeds the official government death toll, which stands at 64.

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that health care disruption for the elderly and the loss of basic utility services for the chronically ill had significant impacts across the U.S. territory, which was thrown into chaos after the September hurricane wiped out the electrical grid and had widespread impacts on infrastructure. Some communities were entirely cut off for weeks amid road closures and communications failures.

Researchers in the United States and Puerto Rico, led by scientists at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, calculated the number of deaths by surveying nearly 3,300 randomly chosen households across the island and comparing the estimated post-hurricane death rate to the mortality rate for the year before. Their surveys indicated that the mortality rate was 14.3 deaths per 1,000 residents from Sept. 20 through Dec. 31, 2017, a 62 percent increase in the mortality rate compared to 2016, or 4,645 “excess deaths.”

“Our results indicate that the official death count of 64 is a substantial underestimate of the true burden of mortality after Hurricane Maria,” the authors wrote.

The official death estimates have drawn sharp criticism from experts and local residents, and the new study criticized Puerto Rico’s methods for counting the dead — and its lack of transparency in sharing information — as detrimental to planning for future natural disasters. The authors called for patients, communities and doctors to develop contingency plans for natural disasters.

Maria caused $90 billion in damage, making it the third-costliest tropical cyclone in the United States since 1900, the researchers said.

More than eight months after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, the island’s slow recovery has been marked by a persistent lack of water, a faltering power grid and a lack of essential services — all of which have imperiled the lives of many residents who have been struggling to get back on their feet, especially the infirm and those in remote areas, some of which were the hardest hit in September.

Counting the dead in such natural disasters is always a difficult task, even under ideal circumstances; in Puerto Rico it was hampered by numerous systemic failures and what the Harvard researchers found was a complex method for certifying the deaths in San Juan. The researchers noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that deaths can be directly attributed to storms like Maria if they are caused by forces related to the event, from flying debris to loss of medical services; in Puerto Rico such deaths continued for months.

Among those who died as a result of medical service lapses was Ivette Leon, 54, a Boy Scout den mother who died on Nov. 29, about 18 hours after she was released from the hospital in post-hurricane Puerto Rico. Leon had fallen ill, suffering from pain all over her body, vomiting and chills. Physicians told her it was an infection, gave her medication, and released her to her family.

Miliana Montanez cradled her mother’s head as she lay dying on the floor of her bedroom here in Caguas, gasping for air and pleading for help.

There was nothing her family could do. It took 20 minutes to find cell reception to make a 911 call. Nonworking traffic signals slowed down the ambulance struggling to reach their neighborhood through crippling congestion.

Leon’s eyes bulged in terror as she described to her daughter the tiny points of light that appeared before her eyes moments before it was all over. She took one last exasperated gulp of air. That’s when paramedics arrived. Far too late.

“The worst part was knowing I could do nothing to help her,” said Montanez, a 29-year-old mother of two. “Knowing she didn’t die peacefully means I will never have closure.”

Leon’s death reverberated through her family and her community. Her son, a college student in a town two hours away, sees no point in coming home anymore. Her husband is withdrawn and is close to losing his job. Her daughter struggles to understand what happened as she fights off despair and anger recalling all the chaos that revolved around Leon’s last moments on the floor of her home.

Puerto Rico’s government faced immediate scrutiny after initially reporting that 16 people had died as a result of the storm, which strafed much of the island on Sept. 20. That number more than doubled after President Donald Trump visited in October, when he specifically noted the low death toll. The number kept rising until early December, when authorities said 64 had died.

The official toll included a variety of people from across Puerto Rico, such as those who suffered injuries, were swept away in floodwaters, or were unable to reach hospitals while facing severe medical conditions. No. 56 was a person from the city of Carolina who was bleeding from the mouth but could not reach a hospital in the days after the storm. Once arrived, the patient was diagnosed with pneumonia and died of kidney failure. No. 43, from Juncos, suffered from respiratory ailments and went to the hospital — only to be released because of the coming storm. That person later returned, dead.

The new study indicates there probably were thousands more, like Leon, who died in the weeks and months that followed but were not counted. Their deaths have long raised questions about the manner and integrity of the Puerto Rico government’s protocols for certifying hurricane-related deaths.

Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s administration did not immediately release mortality data nor did officials provide much information publicly about the process officials were using to count the dead. But officials and physicians acknowledged privately that there were probably many, many more deaths and bodies piling up in morgues across the island.

After pressure from Congress and statistical analyses from news organizations that put the death toll at higher than 1,000, Rosselló enlisted the help of George Washington University experts to review the government’s death certification process. He promised that “regardless of what the death certificate says,” each death would be inspected closely to ensure a correct tally.

“This is about more than numbers, these are lives: real people, leaving behind loved ones and families,” Rosselló said at a news conference in late February.

Lynn Goldman, dean of GW’s Milken Institute School of Public Health, expects an initial report to be released in coming weeks. The school’s findings will include the first government-sponsored attempt by researchers and epidemiologists to quantify Hurricane Maria’s deadliness. Experts are assessing statistical mortality data and plan to dive into medical records and to interview family members of those who have passed, though the scope and funding of the deeper investigation is still unclear, as its timing.

Some cases are obviously storm-related, Goldman said, such as someone dying after a tree branch falls on his head while clearing debris or someone who suffers a heart attack during the storm and was unable to get help. But death certificates bearing the phrase “natural causes” will require further investigation.

The Center for Investigative Journalism in Puerto Rico has gone to court in an effort to seek the island’s Department of Health and Demographic Registry’s mortality data for the months since November, the last month information was available. The Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics also announced in recent weeks it would perform an independent death count and use subpoena powers to retrieve the data. Spokesman Eric Perlloni Alayon said in a statement the government is still trying to verify the death toll and does not plan to release any new data.

The Harvard researchers reported that there are several reasons the death toll in Puerto Rico has been drastically underestimated. Every disaster-related death, they said, must be confirmed by the government’s Forensic Sciences Institute, which requires that bodies by brought to San Juan or that a medical examiner travel to the local municipality. And it can be difficult to track indirect deaths from a worsening of chronic conditions due to the storm.

The researchers said that the government of Puerto Rico stopped sharing mortality data with the public in December 2017.

“As the United States prepares for its next hurricane season, it will be critical to review how disaster-related deaths will be counted, in order to mobilize an appropriate response operation and account for the fate of those affected,” the authors wrote.

Many families here are awaiting clarity on what happened to their loved ones when “natural causes” became the only explanation. That is what was written on Leon’s death certificate the morning a local law enforcement official brought the document to the family home. The Puerto Rico Department of Justice’s Yamil Juarbe said in a statement it is customary for local officials in these cases to review bodies for any signs of trauma and talk to relatives to learn about the deceased’s medical history. That information is collected and sent to the central office of the Institute of Forensic Sciences.

Leon’s family said her name was misspelled on the death certificate and her death was incorrectly attributed to diabetes; they say she did not have any known chronic diseases. Officials later corrected the documents, but it was one of several indignities and oversights the family tracked.

Leon’s demise began with a virus, and the first signs appeared as she was delivering donations to families of Boy Scouts who had lost their homes in another city, Humacao. During Thanksgiving week, Leon had planned a feast for her family but felt too sick to finish the turkey. She seasoned the bird and a local bakery roasted it. Then the vomiting and diarrhea struck her.

She sought treatment at Auxilio Mutuo, a private hospital in San Juan, one of the few to remain open during the electrical outages because of a power generator. The hospital never lost water service or electricity, said hospital spokeswoman Sofia Luqui, and the 600-bed facility experienced higher than usual patient volume after several other hospitals were forced to close.

Leon arrived on the afternoon of Nov. 27 and waited hours overnight before a doctor told her she had diverticulitis and prescribed antibiotics. Leon was never admitted but spent those hours hooked to medical equipment in the emergency room. The next afternoon Leon was sent home with prescription drugs but did not improve. At 7 a.m. the following morning, Montanez said her father summoned her to the family home because Leon was short of breath.

It took 20 minutes to obtain cell reception and call 911 from their metropolitan Caguas neighborhood. It took another 10 minutes, records show, before the ambulance could reach Leon’s home because of road congestion and failing traffic lights. Paramedics tried to revive Leon using CPR, but she was already dead upon their arrival. Montanez tried for days to have an autopsy performed, but she said no government agency or private medical organization had the capacity to conduct one.

Per her wishes, Leon was cremated a few days later in a rushed ceremony because the funeral home was damaged by the storm and was facing an influx of bodies.

“Nobody was ready. This was a monster and we all had to improvise,” said Victor Torres, general manager of Borinquen Memorial in Caguas. “But we did the best we could.”

Montanez stays awake many nights replaying her mother’s last days. She tries to remember the woman who joked so often, and so wryly, that her children often weren’t sure when she was being serious. She recalls how Leon gave each of her neighbors a whistle to call for help in an emergency during Puerto Rico’s prolonged blackout, and how she organized trick-or-treating by lantern light for the children in the barrio so they wouldn’t miss out on Halloween after the hurricane.

But mostly Montanez thinks about the storm. The darkness. The lack of services. It should have been different, she says.

“Everything failed. From day one, everything was failing,” Montanez said. “There are many stories like ours.”

Republished with permission of The Washington Post.

Rick Scott stays in sync with the NRA as he faces a reckoning on guns

The governor is planning to roll out his legislative proposal Friday that, according to a spokesman, will be “aimed at keeping Florida schools safe and keeping firearms out of the hands of mentally ill people.”

With Florida now at the epicenter of a fast-changing national gun debate, the state’s Republican governor is so far refusing to budge from his long-standing opposition to new limits on firearms.

The approach of Gov. Rick Scott, who holds an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association and is preparing to enter what would be a hotly-contested Senate race, stands in contrast to fellow Republicans such as Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and President Donald Trump who in recent days have expressed openness to some new gun limits.

In the days since last week’s mass shooting at a South Florida high school re-energized gun-control activists, Scott has so far responded to questions about the issue with answers that quickly turn to mental health and the need for enhancing safety protocols in schools.

Although he initially told CNN last week “everything’s on the table,” Scott declined an invitation from the network to appear at Wednesday night’s town hall with survivors of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Rubio attended the event and said for the first time he was ready to consider some restrictions on assault weapons — while Scott’s potential opponent in the fall, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, hinted guns could be a focal point in the race by taking a swipe at the governor’s decision to skip.

″[Rubio] had guts, coming here,” Nelson said, prompting boos from the crowd of 7,000 moments later when he added: “Our governor did not come here.”

Scott could face a reckoning on the issue in the coming days, with GOP lawmakers engaged in talks with Democrats designed to produce a potentially modest gun restriction bill before the Legislature’s Session ends next week. The measure would go to Scott for his signature — or possible veto.

The governor is planning to roll out his own legislative proposal Friday that, according to a spokesman, will be “aimed at keeping Florida schools safe and keeping firearms out of the hands of mentally ill people.” The spokesman, John Tupps, said Scott would like to see “swift action,” but he did not specify what that could be.

Scott declined to be interviewed for this story, but several associates this week told The Washington Post he has no intention of softening his views on gun rights.

“He’s committed to Second Amendment rights, and that’s not going to change,” said Brian Ballard, a veteran Florida lobbyist and Scott supporter. “He’s a strong NRA supporter and knows that you have to be careful about tweaking anything that would affect someone’s right to bear arms.”

Keith Appell, a former Scott campaign adviser, said the governor is highly unlikely to embrace new gun regulations.

“He genuinely feels that you don’t solve a symptom of the problem, you solve the problem,” Appell said. “The problem is that schools aren’t safe and is eroding the Second Amendment going to make one kid safer?”

Appell added, “He’s going to be skeptical about the suggestion that banning guns will make school safer.”

Scott, 65, is a wiry and wealthy former health care executive whose anti-establishment entry into politics eight years ago foreshadowed the rise of his ally, Trump.

Known for an upbeat but scripted style, Scott has not shied away from political drama since last week’s tragedy.

He has placed blame on the FBI for failing to act on a call weeks before the shooting, calling for the resignation of the bureau’s director, Christopher Wray.

He has attended numerous funerals, and he has met with survivors of last week’s deadly rampage that killed 17 people and left scores injured. Even in private discussions, he has avoided talk of gun limits.

“He said there is no way that someone who is mentally deranged, such as [Douglas High School shooting suspect] Nikolas Cruz, should have access to a gun,” said Olivia Feller, 16, a junior at the high school who met with Scott on Wednesday along with other students.

One place for consensus could be a revision of Florida’s Baker Act, a law that determines how far law enforcement can go in restricting the activities or purchases of mentally ill people.

Sheriffs and other leaders were divided on whether a change to the scope of the law would infringe on gun rights. Some officials said it should be left alone and urged the state to concentrate on giving weapons to teachers.

Appearing Tuesday at a policy workshop, Scott steered clear of talk of gun rights and focused on “taking a hard look at security” in Florida schools.

“It’s very important we act with a sense of urgency,” Scott said, sitting with a group of sheriffs and state officials.

The deadline for Scott’s final decision on the changes he could support, if any, is fast approaching. State Republican leaders said Tuesday they are planning for a committee vote on their plans next week.

Scott’s enduring position on gun rights reflects the entrenched support for firearms in Florida, despite several of the most deadly mass shootings in U.S. history occurring in the state during his tenure.

Florida has a history of taking the lead nationally in legislating concealed-carry permits, and it has passed a “stand your ground” law, which protects citizens who use deadly force if they feel they are in imminent danger.

Scott’s stance also underscores just how careful most Republican leaders, especially those eyeing higher office, remain on the issue of guns, knowing the party’s base is wary of any push to limit the usage of guns.

Scott has become one of the NRA’s favorite elected officials. The website for the group’s annual meeting this May in Dallas lists him as a speaker earlier in the week, but his smiling photo disappeared from the website by Wednesday. A flier the NRA sent out in 2014 hailed the governor as a trusted foe of “gun control extremists.”

NRA officials made clear this week they intend to fight back against efforts to curb gun rights. The group said in a statement on Wednesday it would oppose legislation to raise the age requirement for buying rifles.

A bill authored by Florida Democrats to ban high-capacity magazines and some semiautomatic weapons failed Tuesday, as gun-control activists and students watched the vote from the state capitol. State GOP leaders said afterward they would consider more modest bills.

The slow pace of debate is a familiar replay for longtime watchers of Florida politics and its governor, although Scott has shown in the past an occasional willingness to move to the center on issues such as Medicaid expansion.

“Florida is littered with examples of people thinking it’ll be a different moment on guns, but the culture never changes,” Florida Republican consultant Rick Wilson said. “This is another one of those moments. That cold political calculus is made, and there is zero movement in Tallahassee.”

Democrats have increased their attacks. “Governor Scott, we need more than your thoughts and prayers. Stop putting the gun lobby ahead of our safety,” a narrator says in the latest ad from Giffords PAC, the political-action committee helmed by former Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat.

Trump’s allies say presidential action, while at its early stages, could ultimately prod Scott to move further on guns.

“The president’s position goes beyond that, the White House wants stronger background checks,” said Christopher Ruddy, a Trump ally and the Florida-based chief executive of Newsmax Media. “The smart thing to do politically would be to require stronger background checks not only for mentally ill people but for those with criminal backgrounds and other issues. Rick is a strong conservative but he likes to be in line with the president, and Trump is the standard-bearer.”

Florida lawmakers and consultants point back to Scott’s responses to past shootings as the better way to predict his next steps.

“The Second Amendment has never shot anybody. The evil did this,” Scott told reporters two years ago following a shooting in Fort Myers, where two teenagers were killed outside of a nightclub.

___

The Washington Post’s Michael Scherer contributed reporting from Tallahassee.

Republished with permission of the Washington Post.

Two months out of office, Barack Obama is having a post-presidency like no other

The first cocktail party at Barack Obama‘s new office last month was certainly more casual than any he had hosted in recent years. The wine bore a random assortment of labels, as if assembled potluck-style. The self-serve appetizers were set out in the narrow hallway. The host, tieless, eschewed formal remarks, as a few dozen of his old administration officials – Joe Biden and former chief of staff Denis McDonough, as well as more junior ones – mingled in a minimalist wood-paneled suite that could be mistaken for a boutique law firm.

“It was a bit of a shock to the system,” said Peter Velz, who used to work in the White House communications office. “You’re bumping up right against the vice president as he’s getting cheese from the cheese plate.”

As the dinner hour drew near, the former president exited with a familiar excuse, Velz recalled: “He was joking if he doesn’t get back to Michelle, he’s going to be in trouble.”

So far, Obama is trying to approach his post-presidency in the same way as his cocktail-hosting duties – keeping things low-key, despite clamoring from Democrats for him to do more. “He is enjoying a lower profile where he can relax, reflect and enjoy his family and friends,” said his former senior adviser Valerie Jarrett.

But the unprecedented nature of this particular post-presidency means his respite could be brief. Even while taking some downtime at a luxurious resort in the South Pacific last week, Obama put out a statement urging Republicans not to unilaterally dismantle his signature health care law.

Not only are the Obamas still young and unusually popular for a post-White House couple, their decision to stay in Washington while their younger daughter finishes high school has combined with the compulsion of the new Trump administration to keep pulling them back into the spotlight.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly invoked his predecessor to blame him for the “mess” he says he inherited: “jobs pouring out of the country,” “major problems” in the Middle East and North Korea. A post-election show of camaraderie has ended; the two have not spoken since Trump took office.

Trump dropped any remaining veneer of politeness this month with a series of tweets accusing Obama – without offering evidence – of illegally surveilling Trump Tower during the campaign. Obama was privately irritated at the allegation, which the director of the FBI and lawmakers from both parties dismissed as unfounded.

He has attempted to stay above the fray, watching from the sidelines as Republicans have pressed to unravel a slew of his initiatives – and emphasizing the need for a new generation of political leaders to step up in his place.

And yet, while other recent ex-presidents have devoted their retirement years to apolitical, do-gooder causes, Obama is gearing up to throw himself into the wonky and highly partisan issue of redistricting, with the goal of reversing the electoral declines Democrats experienced under his watch.

Both the continued interest in Obama and his desire to remain engaged in civic life place him in an unusual position for a former president. George W. Bush left office with low approval rates, retreating to Dallas to write a memoir and take up painting. Bill Clinton decamped for New York on a somewhat higher note politically but downshifted to a mission of building his family’s foundation and supporting his wife’s political career.

Can the Obamas put their heads down and build their ambitious presidential center while living only blocks from the White House? Or is it inevitable that he will get pulled back into the political swamp?

In February, Obama attended a Broadway performance of Arthur Miller‘s “The Price” along with his older daughter, Malia, and Jarrett. They slipped into the theater after the lights went down and left before they came up, most of the audience unaware of his presence – until a New York Times reporter sitting in front of him tweeted about it. By the time Obama left, a crowd had gathered outside.

Paparazzi wait outside of the D.C. SoulCycle exercise studio that Michelle Obama frequents, though she clearly does not appear interested in being photographed.

“They are still decompressing from an extremely intense period. It actually started not just eight years ago but really since his 2004 convention speech – and it never let up,” said a former senior West Wing staffer. “It’s like 12 years of extremely intense stress, political activity, scrutiny, responsibility as a national leader, and for the first lady as the surrogate in chief. … That’s been a big load for the both of them.”

To escape the spotlight, the Obamas have taken multiple vacations since leaving the White House – to Palm Springs, the Caribbean and Hawaii. After meeting with tech executives about his presidential center recently, Obama headed to Oahu, where he golfed with friends and dined at Buzz’s Lanikai steakhouse in Kailua.

Three days later he jetted off in a Gulfstream G550 to Tetiaroa, a South Pacific island once owned by Marlon Brando. He plans an extended stay there to start writing his White House memoir, according to a person familiar with his plans who asked for anonymity to discuss them.

His whereabouts have been obsessively scrutinized. The conservative Independent Journal Review hinted at some murky connection between Obama’s Oahu visit and a Hawaii federal court ruling putting a temporary stay on Trump’s latest travel ban; the conspiratorial story was later retracted. At a GOP dinner, Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., declared that Obama stayed in Washington “to run the shadow government that is going to totally upset the new agenda.” (Kelly later played down his claim.)

Trump, meanwhile, has kept his distance. Before he took office, the new president said he intended to seek Obama’s counsel in the future, but he has not. Trump called once to thank Obama for the letter left in his desk, a pleasant tradition among presidents, but Obama was traveling at the time, according to an individual familiar with the exchange. When Obama returned the call, Trump conveyed his thanks through an aide but said there was no need to get Obama on the phone.

Few believe the Obamas plan to stay in Washington beyond their daughter Sasha‘s 2019 graduation from Sidwell Friends School. “People admire and respect the decision that Barack and Michelle Obama made as parents to minimize the disruption to their children,” former vice president Al Gore told The Washington Post. “When I left my job in the White House, my kids were out of high school. If they had still been in grade school or high school, I might have well made the decision to stay in the city.”

When Obama has been in town, he has not been much of a public presence. Both he and the former first lady have entertained friends in their Kalorama home, newly redecorated to suit their modern style; and both frequently go into in their new West End office space.

About 15 staffers work there, with the framed flag that the Navy SEALs who killed Osama bin Laden presented to the former president displayed in the entryway. One floor of the new office houses aides, including Jarrett, who are helping to build Obama’s foundation, which is headquartered in Chicago.

For now, Obama is delegating political work to associates – notably former attorney general Eric Holder, whom he has tapped to lead the redistricting project that aims to help Democrats redraw legislative maps that many see as tilted toward the GOP. He also endorsed Tom Perez, his former secretary of labor, in a successful bid to become chairman of the Democratic National Committee. His first major speech as a private citizen will come in May, where he will be awarded a Medal of Courage as part of a celebration of President John F. Kennedy‘s centennial.

Michelle Obama, who has a team of four staffers in the office, is spending more time than her husband in Washington, working on her own post-White House book while remaining focused on the home front.

“She’s got one daughter to get off to college, another is a (sophomore) in high school. All of that comes first,” said Tina Tchen, her White House chief of staff. “Now she will also be working on the book and still keeping up her engagement with the community as she always has.”

Her first forays back into public have been visits to D.C. public schools in predominantly minority neighborhoods. These visits have drawn extra attention, perhaps because Melania Trump has held very few public events so far.

Michelle Obama marked International Women’s Day this month by visiting the Cardozo Education Campus and praising its program for recent immigrants. Without mentioning Trump by name, it seemed to be a swipe at his immigration policies.

“She’s deliberate. She likes to be strategic,” said Jocelyn Frye, who attended Harvard Law with the former first lady and served as her first White House policy director. “She doesn’t just do stuff by the seat of her pants.”

Unlike other former first couples, the Obamas do not necessarily have to take to a podium to make a statement. They know their every public movement is plumbed for meaning.

Caught in glimpses over the past few weeks, they appeared relatively rested and refreshed, even as they continue to decompress.

They joined their close friends Anita Blanchard and Marty Nesbitt at the National Gallery of Art to see an exhibit of Chicago artist Theaster Gates‘s unique work – installations constructed from pieces of demolished buildings from African American communities.

Gallery director Earl “Rusty” Powell described it as a “casual Sunday afternoon visit” – but someone alerted the Associated Press, which stationed a photographer outside to capture them as they emerged. The former president’s leather jacket and dark-washed blue jeans drew much approval from outlets that had showered the Obamas with attention for years: “Chic and serene,” opined a Vogue writer.

Obama was similarly “relaxed and calm” when he dropped in on a Chicago meeting with community organizers planning his future presidential library, according to participant Torrey Barrett.

“When he saw me, it wasn’t a traditional handshake,” said Barrett, founder and CEO of the KLEO Community Family Life Center, which sits near the library site. “It was actually a dap, where we shook hands and patted on the back at the same time. … He said he and Michelle’s main priority now is to make sure the library happens.”

When the group posed for a photo with Obama, the Rev. Richard Tolliver, who has known him since his days in the Illinois legislature, stood to his old friend’s right.

“I had my arm around his back and he had his arm around mine,” Tolliver recalled. “I reminded him that the last time I tried to hug him, the Secret Service snatched my arm away. We laughed. He didn’t come off as stiff and formal, projecting the authority of his former office.”

But even in retirement, Obama was in a hurry. After 15 minutes, he rushed off to another engagement.

Republished with permission of The Washington Post.

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