What will the White House be like with first lady Melania Trump living in New York? – Washington Post
It’s one of the most enduring rituals of the presidential transition: On Inauguration Day, one first family returns to its home town, while the next moves into the White House.
But come January, this tradition will be dramatically upended, as Donald Trump’s wife, Melania, plans to continue living in Manhattan with their young son Barron, at least until he completes the school year.
It could create a striking disconnect in Washington, where, in another break with tradition, the Obamas are setting up their new home only a few miles away, similarly delaying an out-of-town move to allow their daughter Sasha to finish high school here.
Michelle Obama has signaled a desire to stay engaged in advocacy work, and her presence in the capital could overshadow Mrs. Trump, who for at least the first six months of her husband’s presidency will be something of a first lady in absentia.
Yet there’s no reason to think the White House will operate much differently without a resident first lady. The East Wing’s bureaucracy will keep churning along. State dinners will still be scheduled. Tour groups will be accommodated, and the White House residence will be cared for by a team of butlers, housekeepers and florists.
“The White House adjusts to its occupants, and the occupants adjust to the White House,” said Anita McBride, an adviser in the George W. Bush administration who served as chief of staff to Laura Bush. “It’s different, but, like everything in this election, the playbook is being rewritten every single day. The role of first lady is really defined by each occupant.”
There may be fewer initiatives from the first lady’s office in the first few months of the administration, but McBride predicts the Trump team will nonetheless hire a staff for his wife and roll out programs eventually. For the ceremonial functions, she said, “what I’m hearing is that when and if needed, Mrs. Trump can get here to be able to participate in events, but he also has other members of his family who can support her in those duties.”
It’s been decades since daughters, sisters or nieces have stepped into the role of first lady, but that has happened. Jacqueline Kennedy, the glamorous first lady who cherished her private life, traveled extensively during her time in the White House, and President Kennedy’s relatives filled in when she was away. Bess Truman likewise spent most of her summers in Missouri with her daughter, Margaret.
“Mrs. Truman felt that Margaret was exposed to a lot of East Coast power and a lot of celebrity, and she felt that her daughter should have a good Midwestern upbringing and get her head on straight,” said Myra Gutin, a scholar at Rider University who studies first ladies.
Other first families have come to the White House with young children, and most of them — President Obama, as well as Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton — enrolled them in local schools midway through the year.
Yet an opposite trend has also taken hold in Washington, as more and more members of Congress have left their families back in their home districts. For many, it’s been a way to maintain closer ties with voters and signal their independence from Beltway culture. Yet some critics believe the practice has heightened partisanship because lawmakers now bolt from Washington every weekend and spend very little time interacting with one another on a casual basis.
Many first ladies have fantasized about escaping the national spotlight, said Gil Troy, a historian at McGill University and author of “The Age of Clinton.”