While Wednesday’s transfer of power from one presidential administration to another represents one of the enduring traditions of American democracy, President Trump’s refusal to concede defeat to President-elect Joe Biden has set the stage for several norms to be broken. At the White House, Trump and first lady Melania Trump will not greet Biden and incoming first lady Jill Biden, nor will the couples attend a ceremonial tea.
Yahoo News talked to Kate Andersen Brower — bestselling author of “The Residence” — about what former chief usher Gary Walters, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986 and served under four U.S. presidents until 2007, called the “controlled chaos” of the handoff from one president to the next. The tradition of moving one first family in while another first family departs dates back to 1953 when Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower moved into the White House after the White House Reconstruction, also known as the Truman reconstruction. President Harry S. Truman oversaw the renovation of the White House’s dilapidated interior from 1948-1952.
According to the late ABC News correspondent Cokie Roberts, “The Trumans were living at Blair House because the White House was under reconstruction, and from there on out, pretty much it’s been out with the old, in with the new.”
This year, with the coronavirus pandemic still raging, a riot at the Capitol by Trump’s supporters raising security concerns and Trump’s refusal to attend Biden’s inauguration have all set the stage for a very different move-in day.
e are in the middle of a deadly pandemic and we’re in a bitterly divided country. Anything we can do to keep ceremony and tradition alive is important,” Brower said.
Starting at about 10:30 a.m. ET on Jan. 20, the process of transforming the White House for its new residents will be carried out with what Brower calls “military-like precision” by the White House chief usher’s office, led by Timothy Harleth, who was appointed by Melania Trump in 2017. He oversees between 90 and 100 butlers, ushers, housekeepers, cooks, florists, etc., who are first tasked with moving out the Trumps. Next, the team will help make the residence — which is located on the second and third floors of the White House — resemble the Bidens’ preferred decorative style before they arrive later in the afternoon.
“The job is so difficult, and so physically demanding, that everyone is called in to help: Pot washers in the kitchen help arrange furniture, and carpenters can be found placing framed photographs on side tables,” Brower explained.
As soon as the Trumps depart the White House, the resident staff will start deep-cleaning the second and third floors. Many of the carpets will also be replaced.
Congress approves a yearly executive residence budget, which covers move-in costs such as packing equipment, overtime for staff members and funds to cover the new household decor.
Some of the Biden family’s belongings have been held in a storage facility in Maryland since the weekend, but unloading won’t begin until around 10:30 a.m. The trucks will be waiting outside one set of gates. After Biden is sworn in, Brower says, “dozens of residence workers from the operations, engineering, carpentry and electrician shops race to remove furniture from the trucks and place them precisely where the first family’s interior decorator wants them.”