WASHINGTON (AP) — Turning 50 is hard enough. But it’s got to be even harder when you’re president, because the whole world knows about it, and harder still when one of life’s milestones is nearly overshadowed by a nasty tussle with Congress over money.
Well, too bad for President Barack Obama. That’s exactly how the big 5-0 is shaping up for him.
Obama’s birthday on Thursday falls two days after the deadline for the president and lawmakers to agree on borrowing more money to keep paying the country’s bills or else send the U.S. spiraling into a potentially calamitous, first-ever default on its financial obligations.
“What I really want right now is to, to get a debt-ceiling deal for my birthday,” Obama told NPR recently. He got an early birthday present on Sunday, when leaders of both parties in both houses of Congress hammered out a deal to avoid default.
The monthslong debate — Obama said it’s been “taking up all the oxygen in the room” — threatened to force him to skip his own party, a pair of birthday fundraisers planned in his Chicago hometown on Wednesday, including an event featuring musicians and Chicago natives Herbie Hancock and Jennifer Hudson.
“I feel real good about 5-0,” he said. “I’ve gotten a little grayer since I took this job, but otherwise, I feel pretty good.”
Obama added that his wife, Michelle, has told him that she still thinks “I’m cute.”
“And I guess that’s, that’s all that matters, isn’t?” he said.
Obama was born in 1961 near the end of the baby boom years of 1946-1964. He’ll join the more than 4.5 million other boomers who are turning 50 this year, according to AARP, citing U.S. Census figures.
“Now I’m gray,” he says at campaign fundraisers. “I’ve got dings and dents,” an apparent allusion to the bruising policy disputes he’s had with Congress, including over the government’s authority to borrow the money it needs to pay the bills.
He told reporters at a White House news conference in mid-July that he was turning 50 in a week; his birthday actually was still three weeks away.
“So I’m starting to think a little bit more about Medicare eligibility,” he said. “I’m going to get my AARP card soon — and the discounts.” Not that he needs them. He has made millions from a best-selling memoir and earns $400,000 a year for running the country.
The gray hair around Obama’s temples is about the only obvious sign of aging.
The 6-foot-1 president is as lanky as he was when he took office. He’s gained no noticeable amount of weight despite a level of job stress that would send most people to the refrigerator for relief on a nightly basis. He has stuck to a regimen of near daily exercise that includes treadmill runs, weight lifting and weekend games of pickup basketball, golf or substitute coaching daughter Sasha’s basketball team.
“Many of you knew me before I had gray hair,” Obama jokes at campaign fundraisers. He halted most travel in July, including fundraising appearances, due to the tense and intense negotiations with Congress.
Of the gray hair, he says: “Malia and Sasha say it makes me look distinguished. Michelle says it makes me look old.” The first lady also talks about seeing the “worry creasing his face.”
Obama is due for another medical checkup soon. Doctors declared him in excellent health after his first exam in early 2010 although he had a borderline high cholesterol level of 209 that suggested room for improvement in his diet.
The president has a habit of sampling local greasy-spoon delicacies — whether it’s burgers, chili dogs, pastries or all of them — on trips outside of Washington. He once said he and the first lady would have to figure out how to resist ordering the White House pastry chef’s pie every night “because whatever pie you like, he will make it and it will be the best pie you have ever eaten.”
He also finally quit smoking, the first lady said.
Obama is the third U.S. president who belongs to the baby boom generation that came along after World War II, a population of more than 76 million. Bill Clinton was America’s first boomer president, followed by George W. Bush. Obama expects to spend his birthday in Washington on Thursday, but the White House hasn’t said how he and his family plan to celebrate.
Besides the birthday fundraisers, Obama’s re-election campaign is planning hundreds of house parties around the country. The campaign also has asked supporters to recruit 50 new people for the re-election effort for the president’s birthday.