Peter Baker has covered the past five presidents, including some events at Camp David.
President Biden’s three-way meeting at Camp David on Friday with the leaders of Japan and South Korea is the latest in a long line of big moments at the storied presidential retreat in the Catoctin Mountains of Maryland — but the first in eight years.
The gathering with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan and President Yoon Suk Yeol of South Korea at the woodsy getaway will be the first time Mr. Biden has invited foreign leaders to join him there since taking office and the first time any foreign leaders have been there since 2015, when President Barack Obama hosted top Arab officials.
The sprawling, remote 148-acre retreat has been a favorite of most presidents since Franklin D. Roosevelt started going there in the 1930s, although not every president fancies its rustic ambience (Mr. Obama among them). Guests staying in one of the 11 stone-and-wood cabins get around in golf carts and can go bowling, swim, shoot skeet, and play pool, tennis, basketball, golf or horseshoes.
A short helicopter ride from the White House, Camp David offers open-air freedom for presidents who otherwise remain mostly cocooned in a tight security bubble.
For many of them, it has been a welcome venue to decompress on weekends or to forge more relaxed relationships with foreign counterparts. Roosevelt, who called the camp Shangri-La, brought Prime Minister Winston Churchill of Britain there during World War II. Dwight D. Eisenhower later renamed it after his grandson David.
Over the decades, Camp David has hosted many momentous events, probably none more famous than Jimmy Carter’s epic 13-day negotiations in 1978 that ultimately led to a landmark peace treaty between Israel and Egypt and transformed the politics of the Middle East. Others have sought to replicate the magic of that moment, only to fall short, as when Bill Clinton huddled with Israeli and Palestinian leaders there in 2000.
Emulating the Roosevelt and Churchill meeting, George W. Bush invited Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain to Camp David in 2001 for a get-to-know-you overnight visit that included an evening showing of the movie “Meet the Parents.” Mr. Bush later shared with reporters that the two leaders used the same brand of toothpaste. (“They’re going to wonder how you know that, George,” Mr. Blair quipped.)
The retreat has been used less for talks with foreign leaders in recent years. Donald J. Trump preferred his own estates in Florida and New Jersey or his golf club in Virginia. He reluctantly agreed to host a Group of 7 meeting at Camp David in 2020 after critics panned his plan to use one of his clubs in Florida, but the gathering was called off because of the Covid-19 pandemic.