Inside the White House on Inauguration Day

Friday, January 20, 2017
Inside the White House on Inauguration Day
The White House in Washington is pictured in this undated stock photo.

When President-elect Donald Trump takes the presidential oath at the Capitol, with Barack and Michelle Obama watching, the world will witness a transfer of power between two presidents.

Behind the scenes at the White House, the transfer of power between the two first families is already underway as dozens of White House residence staff execute a highly-orchestrated move that will transform the White House to the Trump family's liking by Friday evening.

"There's a moving van that is positioned in one direction to take the belongings of the outgoing president and first family to leave the White House," said Anita McBride, who served as chief of staff to first lady Laura Bush. "And then you have moving vans and trucks that are pulling in from the other side of the driveway on the south side of the White House that will be ready to unload all of the belongings of the new family."

The transformation of the Obama White House to the Trump White House is executed under the watchful eye of White House chief usher Angella Reid. The White House residence staff are non-political employees who typically serve under multiple administrations.

"All of the residence staff, again, no matter what role that they play on a day-to-day basis...everybody has a job to do on that morning," McBride said. "They have very unique roles in the White House."

Obamas' Goodbye

The residence staff begin their moving duties after bidding goodbye to the Obamas, who lived in the White House for eight years. The first family typically says goodbye to the residence staff in an often emotional farewell meeting early in the morning on Inauguration Day.

"I think for the president and first lady that are leaving, there's mixed emotions," McBride said. "You're gonna miss the people that have been around you, your staff, the residence staff, that have taken great care of you for such a long period of time."

Of the residence staff, McBride said, "They have emotions too to say goodbye but then it's the frenetic pace that happens soon as the current president leaves the front door where they get to work and get the house ready for the next occupant."

Moving trucks have already been spotted at the Washington, D.C., home the Obamas are renting while their youngest daughter, Sasha, 15, finishes high school. Beginning the afternoon of Jan. 20, the Obama family will live outside the confines of the White House gates for the first time in eight years.

After Trump is sworn in, the Obamas will fly to Palm Springs, California, for a vacation.

"Usually there is kind of a swing around, it's actually quite a moment, the swing around the Capitol where the new president is having lunch with the Congress," ABC News' Cokie Roberts said of the traditional "farewell helicopter ride" for the outgoing first family.

Trump White House

The White House residence staff has a particularly quick turnover to accomplish this year as Trump's inaugural parade is expected to be far shorter than the parades of his predecessors.

White House transformations of the past have included filling the new first family's closet with their clothes, making sure their favorite foods are stocked and even making sure their preferred towels are hung. This year it remains to be seen what the transformation will include as Melania Trump plans to remain in New York City through at least June so the couple's son, Barron, can finish the school year.

"The question of how many rooms that they would be redoing in the private residence really is unclear or undefined right now," McBride said. "You know that definitely they will do their bedrooms to their liking and bedrooms for children."

"When [the Obamas] moved in in 2009, the first two rooms that Mrs. Obama did were for her girls and Laura Bush did the same thing for her girls," she said.

It also remains unclear how much time Trump himself plans to stay at the White House, as he may choose instead to spend time at Trump Tower in New York City or at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.

The Trumps have free reign to redecorate the private residence on the second and third floors of the White House, but any changes to historic rooms like the Lincoln Bedroom and Queen's Bedroom must be approved by the Committee for the Preservation of the White House.

"The White House is a living museum, steeped in great history but it is constantly evolving and every new first family that comes in gets to put their imprint on it," McBride said. "I have heard though when Mrs. Trump came through to see the White House for the first time with Mrs. Obama, that she thought it was beautiful as it is."

"So I think time will tell and we'll just have to see," she said. "Again, it is their prerogative to decorate their private residence and [Trump's] Oval Office the way that they want."

Symbolic Tradition

Regardless of how much or how little of the Trump family's belongings are moved into the White House, the move from one president at the White House to the next is fraught with symbolism.

"It's important to reflect on how crucial this is, these symbols of the transfer of power, even unto the children's toys, really are for the Republic and for the stability of the Republic," Roberts said. "A lot of it is tradition, and it's not that old of a tradition, truth be told."

The tradition of moving one first family in while the outgoing first family is moved out began in 1952 when Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower moved into the White House, according to 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," she said. "The first families, by and large, have been very kind about saying to their successors, 'Come on in, take a look, measure the drapes.'"

"Certainly Michelle Obama was welcoming to Melania Trump and I assume that the staffs have all been meeting," said Roberts, who has covered every presidential inauguration since 1981.

First Lady's Role

Once the new president is in the White House, it historically falls to the first lady to complete the transition and work closely with the residence staff.

"You're meeting people who are going to be at your hand for the next four years and if you're wise, you will take that very seriously and be very kind," Roberts said. "Assuming Melania Trump is in New York City, it's going to be a much slower process."

The first lady's logistical work with the move also comes at the same time the media and public are asking what her platforms or causes will be, according to Roberts.

"It's a hard job and it has been from the beginning, particularly in a situation like this where there's a lot of political hostility," she said. "Often the first lady's role, if she's a good politician, is to bring people together and smooth things over and sort of lighten things up."

Related Topics