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Obama and Biden do lunch

May 5, 2009 | 11:15 am


Maybe it is the economy. Maybe it was the desire to flee the bubble, however briefly. Maybe they just wanted to show everyone they really are just plain folks. Maybe, despite vegetarians, real men do bond better over burnt flesh.

But whatever the reason, President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden took their lunch al fresco today, chowing down on burgers and taters at an Arlington, Va., eatery in a strip mall.

The restaurant, Ray’s Hell Burger, is best known for its 10-ounce burgers that cost $6.95 and, according to reports from the scene, its potato puffs. French fries, sought by the duo, apparently are not on the A-list.

It is not like Obama and Biden can just go out for fast food, of course. They went by motorcade, taking a pool of reporters with them. The media feasted on the story but just nibbled at the meal, paid for by the president.

Burgertime2According to the pool report, Obama and Biden entered through the front door and waited their turn in line. After a few moments, Obama looked toward the pool and said, "Who’s taking orders here? My treat to the pool." 

"Who wants a burger?" Obama said.

Then, Obama told one reporter, Caren Bohan of Reuters: "You’re in charge of taking everybody’s orders."

Some reporters declined, but others, not wanting to seem ungracious, ordered burgers. Republicans will probably say the trip explains why the media is so soft on the Obama administration, not wanting to bite the hands that feed them. But the reporters insisted they will make a donation to charity instead of trying to slip a white envelope with cash to the president for the meal.

 As the two most powerful leaders of the Western world waited in the food line, the other customers did the usual gawking thing. When they reached the front, Obama greeted the two order takers. The guy who took Obama’s order and money was Tim Murray. 

The exact fare was unclear because the reporters were out of position, but the president had a burger, either with cheese or mushrooms.

The press order was to go, Obama said: “ 'cuz you guys aren’t gonna have tables." 

Then he added: "We’re paying, or these people [the pool] are gonna write about how we’re freeloading."

"You guys are cheap dates. I can’t believe I couldn’t get more of you to order a burger," Obama said.
The president pulled out some bills and paid, putting a $5 bill in the tip jar. During the campaign he paid for ice cream for the press and built up a reputation as a good tipper through the culinary tour of U.S. electoral politics. 

Biden, recently criticized for putting his foot into his mouth over the swine flu outbreak, did better this time, ordering a Swiss cheese burger with jalapeno peppers. He paid for his order separately, with cash. He also got some food to go.

-- Michael Muskal (follow me on twitter)

Photo: President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, left, enjoy cheeseburger lunch orders at Ray's Hell Burger in Arlington, Va. Obama and Biden made an unannounced vist to the restaurant. Credit: Roger L. Wollenberg-Pool / Getty Images