A Biden Thanksgiving: Sweeping Views of Nantucket Harbor, Calls About Israel

Workers swept wet leaves off the cobblestone streets around blustery downtown Nantucket on Wednesday morning as the island prepared for a shopping run by its most famous annual visitor: President Biden.

Mr. Biden and Jill Biden, the first lady, arrived on the exclusive island off the coast of Massachusetts late Tuesday for their traditional Thanksgiving week visit. The couple was whisked directly from Nantucket Memorial Airport to a $34 million home of a billionaire friend, David Rubenstein, where the family will stay through Sunday.

The home of Mr. Rubenstein, a co-founder of the Carlyle Group, a private equity firm, is on 13 acres of beachfront property with sweeping views of Nantucket Harbor.

The island has been bustling with activity awaiting the first family’s arrival. Earlier this week, a C-17 aircraft landed to deliver vehicles and security equipment. Secret Service agents and White House staff members have filled the hotels and were meandering through local boutiques.

Still, the president’s visit has a more subdued feel this year than in years past as rain fell and the wind whipped through Nantucket on Wednesday, delaying a potential pre-Thanksgiving visit downtown. Many locals also pointed out that Mr. Biden has been coming to the island for some 40 years, and that this is his third visit as president.

They’re used to it by now.

“It’s like: ‘The Bidens are here. OK, cool,’” said Suzanne Bennett, who manages Nantucket Bookworks, a local bookshop where Mr. Biden has popped in on previous walks in town. Ms. Bennett said she hadn’t done much of anything to prepare for this year’s likely Biden family visit, and described the morning routine as business as usual.

Nantucket Bookworks is a local bookshop Mr. Biden has visited.Credit…Maansi Srivastava/The New York Times

“You don’t have to do anything special for them,” she said. “They don’t ask for anything special.”

Jody Bachman, 72, a retired postal worker who was sitting on a bench on Main Street in the morning, said he wasn’t sure if he was going to be in town later this week to see Mr. Biden.

“I’ve met him so many times,” Mr. Bachman said.

Mr. Bachman, a Republican, said he was “probably going to stick with my team” in the next presidential election. But he said most Nantucket residents thought of the Bidens as a “lovely family,” himself included. He also said people should stop giving Mr. Biden a hard time about his age.

“He’ll know when it’s time to say, ‘I quit,’” Mr. Bachman said.

Mr. Biden’s holiday visit is a respite from Washington, where the president is facing polls showing him trailing Donald J. Trump, his likely challenger in next year’s election, and growing anger from some Democrats over his support for Israel in its war against Hamas. On Wednesday, the White House announced a four-day pause in fighting in the war for the release of 50 hostages held in Gaza, including American citizens, in exchange for 150 Palestinians imprisoned in Israel.

Mr. Biden spoke on Wednesday from Nantucket to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt and Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, the emir of Qatar, to discuss the hostage deal, the White House said. Mr. Biden and Mr. Netanyahu agreed that “the work is not yet done,” according to the White House, and pledged to “continue working to secure the release of all remaining hostages.”

George Butterworth, 73, a retired physician who was walking downtown with his Labrador retriever, has been living on Nantucket for about 45 years. Mr. Butterworth said that he would like the president to be more supportive of Palestinians in Gaza, but that he still backed Mr. Biden. He used to go away for the holidays but began staying on the island just to see the president — no matter the snipers on the rooftops of downtown shops.

George Butterworth said he would like the president to be more supportive of Palestinians.Credit…Maansi Srivastava/The New York Times

“I think he needs to do everything he can for the Palestinian people,” Mr. Butterworth said. But, he added: “I’m a fan of Joe Biden, so I don’t mind him coming. I think he’s doing as well as he can with all the resistance he has from Congress and all that.”

The Bidens have been visiting Nantucket since 1975, when Mr. Biden, then a first-term senator from Delaware, and Jill, his wife-to-be, spent their first Thanksgiving together there. In his memoir “Promise Me, Dad,” Mr. Biden called it an “act of diplomacy.” The family was fielding multiple invitations and he worried any choice would offend another invitee.

“Nantucket turned out to be worth it once we finally got there, eight hours after we left our house in Wilmington,” the president wrote of that trip by car from his home in Delaware to the ferry in Hyannis, Mass., that crosses to Nantucket.

“It was chilly on the little island at the end of November, but you could smell the tangy salt air of the Atlantic. The island had emptied for the season, so we had much of the place to ourselves,” he recalled.

“Nantucket Thanksgiving became our tradition for the next four decades,” Dr. Biden wrote in her memoir “Where the Light Enters.” “With a few exceptions, we’ve made the trek every year since, creating rituals that would become a key part of our family along the way.”

Over the years, Mr. Biden has taken part in the Christmas-tree-lighting ceremony and once participated in the Thanksgiving Day Cold Turkey Plunge, a dip into frigid waters to benefit the Weezie Library for Children on the island.

These days Thanksgiving on Nantucket is a large family affair. Last year the Bidens were joined by their daughter, Ashley, and Mr. Biden’s son Hunter, his wife, Melissa, and their young son, Beau. This year the family will be joined by Ashley and her husband, Howard Krein; Hunter, Melissa and Beau; and other grandchildren, Naomi, Finnegan, Maisy and Hunter, the White House said.

The Bidens have been visiting Nantucket since 1975.Credit…Maansi Srivastava/The New York Times

At some point this week the family will also separately celebrate Mr. Biden’s 81st birthday, which was on Monday. They will do so with a coconut cake, “which is something that they traditionally do,” said Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary.

Mr. Biden is also expected to take his usual stroll downtown. Tris Marks, 46, and Kevin Konetchy, 38, who both work for the Nantucket Department of Public Works, said it fell to them to clean the streets, sweep the leaves and bring out the barricades.

“It’s the president,” Mr. Marks said. “We’ve got to make things look good.”

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