You think that the president has access to all of the newest and latest gadgets? While he would definitely be able to obtain them, that won’t do him much good as he probably is prohibited from using them. The reason for that is, of course, security. The first president to have a smartphone was President Barack Obama.
Obama was granted the approval to keep a Blackberry during his presidency, although he had to accept that it would be heavily moderated by the secret service. You could hardly call it a smartphone. Obama said of the phone “Does your three-year-old have one of those play phones? That’s basically the phone I got.”
Just Not The Piano
You already know that the First Family can exercise the right to redecorate many of the rooms in the White House. But, there are certain rooms that they can’t touch and with that, specific items that they can’t move. One of these is the famous grand piano. The piano can be played, but it most definitely cannot be moved. The Steinway grand piano was designed by Eric Gugler (with help from Franklin Roosevelt) and was given to the White House in 1938 by the manufacturer. It is decorated with gilt stenciling by Dunbar Beck, and is usually kept in the East Room, but sometimes places in the Entrance Hall.
There is a White House curator on staff who is responsible for making sure that historical artifacts and art are taken care of and preserved. We imagine that this task can get challenging when there are young children who live in the White House!
The Moving Bill
Moving homes is always stressful, and more often than not, quite expensive. Well, it might come as a big surprise to you that you aren’t the only one paying for your move into a new home. The president also needs to pay the bill for moving into the White House. They arrange a moving company of their choice, and for obvious reasons, the movers aren’t allowed to step foot into the White House. So, when former President Obama moved from Chicago to Washington D.C., he had to cover the transportation costs, either with personal funds or money raised for the campaign.
The only people allowed inside of the White House are the residence staff. So, once the moving trucks arrive at site, the residence staff takes custody of the possessions and assumes the responsibility of moving their stuff inside. The same rules apply for moving out of the White House.
No Open Windows!
Living in America’s most famous and historical house comes with many advantages. The White House is situated at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, in Washington, D.C. Presidents have been calling this place home during their term since John Adams served in 1800. Because the president is the most protected person in the country, it is reasonable that his home would be guarded in the same manner. Some of the restrictions of the First Family in the White House may seem a bit unusual to you, but it all boils down to the same intention; protecting the president and his family. So, what’s the first restricted activity in the White House? Nobody is allowed to open any windows in the White House.
During Obama’s presidency, his wife, Michelle, had a very difficult time adhering to this rule. She often missed the simple freedom of opening the windows and feeling the fresh air on her face. She jokingly shared with Ellen DeGeneres how she would spend her first year out of the White House. “I just want some wind in my face,” she said, and laughed that she would “spend the first year just hanging out the window.” “The windows in our house don’t open,” Michelle Obama continued, referring to the White House windows that are permanently sealed.
Another rule that the president always must follow is to make calls only from secure lines. No matter whether the call is personal or private, it must be done on a secure line. This is a very important rule.
All incoming and outgoing calls made by the president are made on a secure line for national security reasons. “Because the smartphones of high-level government officials — including the President — are obvious targets for foreign intelligence services, the government goes to significant effort to ensure that government-issued smartphones are constantly updated to address security vulnerabilities,” one White House expert stated.
The Inauguration is on January 20th
When a new president is elected, they are inaugurated into the White House on January 20. This is the ceremony marking the start of the new four-year term. Since 1937, it has taken place on January 20. The president can only move in on that exact day, as their predecessor still lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue until January 19. “We’re not allowed in the White House until noon on January 20, so we have to operate virtually from an off-site location and organize all the logistics there,” states Bradley Blakeman, who served as deputy assistant to Former President George W. Bush. Blakeman was responsible for scheduling every minute of the president’s time — including on move-in day. “It’s organized and they’ve got it done to a science. It’s like a military maneuver.” From the time where the past President is moving out and the elected President is moving in, staff members work hard scrubbing the White House, polishing the furniture, and cleaning windows.
The new First Family only has 12 hours to move into the White House, mostly for security purposes. It is reported that The Obamas took only five short hours to fully move out of the White House. They may have pulled a record! A chief usher plans the move-in day to the T, giving the White House staff floor plans and photographs to specifically show where that show where each item goes.
The Annual Hanukkah Party
While it isn’t a rule, it has become a tradition for the president to host an annual Hanukkah party. This tradition began in 1979 when President Jimmy Carter was in office. Carter lit the menorah on the Ellipse, a park just south of the White House.
The first president to light the Hanukkah menorah in the White House was President George W. Bush in 2001. Bush lit a 100-year-old Hanukkah menorah that the White House borrowed from the Jewish Museum of New York. Bush hosted many annual Christmas parties. He ascertained that many previous presidents had participated in Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremonies, but that this occasion was the first time that the ceremony had been carried out as part of a bigger, community celebration, and observance of the holiday in the White House. While prior to him, candles had been lit in the Oval Office, this was the first time in American history that the celebration would take place in the White House residence. The tradition has continued through to this day. Those invited to the party include hundreds of American Jewish politicians, organization heads, and school deans. Keep reading to learn about more long-standing traditions in the White House and rules that the First Family is expected to adhere to.
Every Christmas Tree Has a Theme
The tradition of Christmas tree themes started back in 1961 with First Lady Jackie Kennedy. It continues through to today. Jackie based the first Christmas tree theme on Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker,” during her husband’s first year in office.
The tradition has continued every year and each year, the First Lady chooses how it will be decorated. Past themes have included “American Flower Tree,” “Antique Toy,” and “Mother Goose.” In 2017, First Lady Melania Trump chose a theme called “Time-Honored Traditions.”
Car Windows Are Never Opened
Similar to the first family being prohibited from opening the windows of the White House, they are also forbidden from opening the windows of the car they are in.
On the rare instances that a car window is opened, it usually happens on private property and not in public.
The First Ladies
It has become a tradition for the incoming and outgoing first ladies to sit down and meet after election. Usually, this happens over a cup of tea at the White House. Most recently, outgoing first lady Michelle Obama met with Melania Trump to discuss what life is like in the White House.
The two reportedly talked about raising children in the White House. We are sure that it is no easy task raising children there. Michelle Obama also gave Melania Trump a private tour of the White House before they went to the Oval Office to meet their respective husbands.
When you become a member of the First Family, you gain a lot of power. With that being said, you also lose certain liberties. A few of those we have already mentioned like driving a car and opening the windows. Another thing that becomes off limits is being able to go where you want when you want. Being part of the first family means being under constant surveillance by the secret service.
The secret service is responsible for protecting the president and their family under all costs. They also provide protection for the vice-president’s family. When you are part of the first family, you are under constant observation, no matter what it is that you’re doing and where you are doing it.
The Famous Correspondents’ Dinner
While the president is by not required to show up to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, it is a long-held tradition for them to show up for some fun humor in which they are the butt of many of the jokes. Usually, journalists, comedians, athletes, and pop culture icons attend the event. The tradition began in 1921. So far, fifteen presidents have attended at least one dinner beginning with Calvin Coolidge in 1924. The dinner is usually held on the last Saturday in April, at the Hilton Hotel, in Washington. Until 1962, the dinner could only be attended by men. At the request of Helen Thomas, President John F. Kennedy refused to attend the dinner unless women would also be allowed to attend.
The White House Correspondents’ Dinner celebrates the First Amendment. You know, that amendment that talks about free speech. So, the president is usually the one to get roasted. There are often scholarships and various awards handed out at the event which are funded by the admission fees. Many annual dinners have been cancelled or reduced due to deaths or political crises. The dinners have drawn criticism over years for becoming “too Hollywood.” There is a lot of attention given to the guest list and entertainers, often obscuring the initial purpose of the dinner which is to “acknowledge award-winners, present scholarships, and give the press and the president an evening of friendly appreciation.” This has led to the event becoming one in which people come to “see and be seen.”
The “Nuclear” Football
Wherever the president goes, his “nuclear football” always follows closely behind. “The Football” is the nickname of the briefcase that follows Mr. President around. It is also known as the President’s emergency satchel, the button, the black box, or (our personal favorite) the atomic football. The public has no idea exactly what is housed inside but you can be sure that it contains very important and secretive items. The football dates back to Eisenhower’s presidency. However, its current purpose came about in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis when JFK was concerned that a Soviet commander in Cuba might launch missiles without approval from Moscow.
It’s rumored that the briefcase has nuclear codes so that in the case of a nuclear attack, the president would have access to codes if needed. A small antenna protruding from the bag near the handle also suggests that the briefcase carries communications equipment of some kind. The briefcase apparently weighs roughly 45 pounds… so there must be some other top secret items hidden in there. The football, which is a metal Zero Halliburton briefcase, is held by an aide-de-camp. It is carried in a leather jacket.
One perk of being the president of the United States is that you get a new car. And this is no ordinary car. For starters, it is usually referred to by names such as “The Beast,” “Cadillac One” and “first Car,” despite it not really being a car. This official state car of the President is currently a unique Cadillac that debuted in September, 2018.
This car is definitely not like the one that you are picking up the kids in for carpool. Actually, calling it a tank would be a more accurate title than a car. It is fitted with the essential bulletproof glass and reinforced with enough armor that it could withstand the intensity of a bomb. Thanks to its sealing capacity and internal oxygen system it can also uphold a nuclear attack. Basically, if disaster strikes, this is where you’d want to be. In an interview with CNN, Joe Funk, a former United States Secret Service agent and driver of Bill Clinton’s presidential state car during part of his service, described the car. He shared that while the president is completely cut off from the outside world by the armor and bulletproof glass of the vehicle, he has at his fingertips communication capabilities including phones, satellite communications, and the Internet.
The National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation is a ceremony that began way back in the 1940s. However, Ronald Reagan was the first to coin the phrase, although he didn’t technically use that word. During the ceremony, the President of the United States is presented with a live domestic turkey by the National Turkey Federation. The birds are usually males selected for appearance and gobbling sounds.
The first president to officially pardon a turkey was in 1999 when President Bill Clinton pardoned ‘Harry the Turkey.” During Trump’s presidency, there was Drumstick in 2017 and Peas in 2018.
Driving in Public
One thing that the president and First Family are not able to do is operate motor vehicles on public roads. While those who are reluctant to get behind the wheel of a car may see this as a relief, many past presidents have felt as though a major privilege was being revoked from them. This can be especially burdensome for somebody like President Trump who has quite an impressive collection of cars. While having a driver to chauffeur you around is probably very convenient most of the time, there is something very liberating in driving. Some people may even call it therapeutic. But, presidents aren’t allowed to drive on public roads, for safety reasons. The last president who was allowed to drive was Lyndon B. Johnson.
So you might be thinking, if the president and first family can’t drive on public roads, can they drive on private ones? You bet they can. George W. Bush used to love driving his truck around his private ranch in Crawford, Texas. He shared with Jay Leno that he hasn’t driven on public roads for nearly 25 years. He recently auctioned his truck for charity and raised $300,000. Ronald Reagan was also a fan of taking his jeep for a ride around his Santa Barbara property.
The First Lady Must Decorate
There is no interior designer staffed in the White House. This means that the responsibility lies on the first lady to hire an interior designer that the first family chooses. She hires the interior designer shortly after the family takes up residence in the White House. Melania Trump hired Laotian-American interior designer Tham Kannalikham. Tham got her start at Ralph Lauren Home in New York and is the owner of firm Kannalikham Designs. Women’s Wear Daily noted that “While pundits and comedians have mused about the likelihood of an Oval Office adorned with gold and marble accents … their White House is likely to be more toned down given Kannalikham’s ethos.” Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, former senior adviser to the first lady, told Women’s Wear Daily prior to the inauguration “Mrs. Trump has a deep appreciation for the historical aspects of the White House and with Tham’s traditional design and expertise, they are focusing on a seamless integration of elegance and comfort into where the President, the First Lady, and [their son] Barron will be spending their family time and calling their home.”
The designer assumes the role of redesigning and organizing the White House. But, the historical rooms are to be left untouched. For these rooms, there is a designated curator on staff to ascertain that the historical artifacts are being appropriately cared for. The tradition of redecorating is usually a light and public affair, with the first lady happy to share all the decor details to curious Americans. Michelle Obama, for instance, regularly shared information about her designs with Vogue or Architectural Digest. The First Lady isn’t required to disclose this information. Considering the rather reclusive life that Melania Trump lives, it doesn’t come as a surprise that she has chosen not to share much about the newly redesigned private quarters at the White House. It was reported, however, that before Donald Trump even moved into the White House, Melania Trump already had plans to set up a designated room for hair, makeup, and wardrobe, according to Vanity Fair. Her longtime makeup artist supposedly said, “Melania wants a room with the most perfect lighting scenario.” That “perfect lighting” would “make our jobs as a creative team that much more efficient, since great lighting can make or break any look.” Apparently, it takes an hour and a half of zero interruptions to do Melania’s makeup.
The White House Easter Egg Roll
The White House Easter Egg Roll has been a tradition since 1878 although it started during the presidency of James Madison in 1814. Dolley Madison, the wife of President James Madison began the event. Hundreds of children showed up with their decorated eggs to join in on the festivities. The event was subsequently canceled. At the request of many children, then President Rutherford B. Hayes and his wife Lucy brought the event back, this time to the White House lawns. The Easter Egg Roll tradition invites children to roll Easter eggs with a spoon in a race across the lawn of the White House.
The event is held every year on Easter Sunday. The event was called off only during wartime and when the White House underwent major construction. After leaving the event, participants receive a wooden Easter egg, a tradition that First Lady Nancy Reagan started. On 13 April 2009, the Obamas hosted their first White House Easter egg roll. The theme “Let’s go play” was intended to motivate young people to start leading healthier, more active lives.
Food at the White House
You would think that the president of the United States might get everything for free while they are in the White House, but that’s actually very far from the truth. Contrary to popular belief, they aren’t living off of tax payer’s money. Instead, they are paying for their own food, toiletries, dry cleaning, and a slew of other personal items and services just like next fella. Laura Bush shared her experiences of dealing with the costs of living in the White House. “There were some costs that I was not prepared for,” Bush wrote. “I was amazed by the sheer number of designer clothes that I was expected to buy, like the women before me, to meet the expectations for a first lady.”
As the saying goes, there’s no such things as a free lunch. If you are interested in checking out what’s cooking in the White House kitchen, the kitchen staff have an official Instagram page. It’s definitely interesting to see what the staff and the First Family are chowing down on! Chef Walter Scheib explains that every first family wants something different. He found that preferences weren’t party-specific as much as they were gender-specific. “The guys would have been just as happy if we opened a TGI Friday’s in the basement. They kind of dined on the concept it was good, if you melted cheese on it, it was even better.” Some past presidents have requested some pretty unique foods over the years. George H.W. Bush loved pork rinds in Tabasco sauce. After mentioning pork rinds throughout his campaign, he made the fried pigskin snack so popular that Rudolph Foods Company, a pork rind manufacturer, asked all their employees to work overtime to keep up with sales. Other weird food requests from past presidents include Lyndon B. Johnson’s request for cottage cheese with ketchup, Bill Clinton’s request for coca-cola flavored jelly, and most recently, Trump’s request for the kitchen to make McDonald’s fried apple pies.
The Best Wine
One very cool perk of living in the White House is having any food item you could ever wish for at your disposal. That is, except for one specific item. If you are a wine connoisseur, then you might be disappointed to find out that imported wines are off limits in the White House. The cooks go great distances to assure that all of the food and beverages served in house are from the US.
Imported wines were removed from the White House menus during Ford’s administration. It has since become a tradition to keep only wines made in the USA in the White House. Most of the wines make their way from Virginia, Idaho and, of course, California.
The president has an overwhelming amount of power, but, they aren’t able to declare war on another country. The constitution gives that power to Congress only. Article I, Section 8, of the U.S. Constitution states “The Congress shall have the power… To declare war…” Meanwhile, Article II, section 2, states “The President shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States…”
The last time war was declared on another country was during World War II. Congress has officially declared war on other countries a total of 11 times. The first declaration of war occurred in 1812 against Great Britain. The United States is currently in conflict with a number of countries but has yet to declare war on any of them.
Convertibles Are No Longer Allowed
There are many rules which surround driving. The president is forbidden from driving on public roads. There are also certain cars that the president isn’t allowed to ride in. Although in the past you could see the president riding around in a convertible, that is definitely no longer the case.
Since President John F. Kennedy’s assassination happened when he was in the back seat of a convertible, they have tightened the reigns on the rules. Kennedy reportedly loved riding with the top down. He did it all his adult life, sometimes even in the rain, and when he became president, he saw no reason to end his love affair with the convertible. As president, he believed that security and comfort should take a back seat to the political value of being seen by the people. Convertibles are now highly off limits for any sitting president. Keep reading to see what other rules the first family and the president must adhere to.
A Budget Just for Decorating
Just because the president can have access to the best interior decorator, it doesn’t mean he can go all out with the cost. Presidents have a budget of $100,000 for decorating and anything over that amount will come directly out of their own pockets. The modest Carter family reportedly did use all of the then budget of $50,000.
The Reagans turned down the offer and redecorated with their own money. Meanwhile the Clintons and Obamas spent around the same amount as the Carters, with the Obamas reportedly spending the money out of pocket. But none of those figures comes close to the amount that the Kennedy’s spent on a full restoration of the famous house. When considering today’s inflation, they spent a reported $16.4 million on revamping the home. The Trumps reportedly spent around $1.75 million on furniture for the White House and offices tied to it. That figure reportedly included $17,000 for custom rugs, $7,000 for “furniture pedestals,” and $5,000 worth of wallpaper. It is unclear who paid for what, given the lack of Trump’s tax returns.
Interior Design Rules
If you imagine the first family dancing and prancing around the White House wherever their heart pleases and doing what they wish, you are sorely mistaken. There are rooms that even the first family is prohibited from changing. Among the rooms which the First Family can’t change are the Oval Office and the Lincoln Bedroom. The White House mirrors more a museum than an actual house. In September 1961, Congress put into place legislation declaring the White House to be a museum. This legislation allowed the President to declare furniture, fixtures, and decorative arts as historic or of artistic interest. This prevented the items from being sold (as many objects in the mansion had been in the past 150 years). When the items aren’t in use or on display at the White House, they are handed over to the Smithsonian Institution for preservation, study, storage, or exhibition. The White House exercises the right to have these items returned.
Some decoration changes require the approval by the historical committee that oversees the White House, the Committee for the Preservation of the White House. This committee is responsible for maintaining the historical integrity of the White House. They work with each First Family, usually represented by the First Lady, the White House Curator, and the Chief Usher, to carry out the family’s proposals for making changes in the home. The First Family is free to make decoration changes on the second and third floors as they wish. These are the private quarters and they include more than a dozen rooms over two floors. The First Family can bring in their own furniture, bedding, rugs, and decorations. Plus, they can repaint the walls.
The Secret Service
After President McKinley passed away in 1901, Congress passed a law that officially charged the secret service with protecting the president and their family. The secret service also has the responsibility of protecting the vice president’s family and the president-elect and vice president-elect in the event of an election year.
There are, however, certain family members who refuse the protection of the secret service. For example, in September 2017, Donald Trump Jr. gave up his right to be protected by the secret service.
The Social Media Issue
In a time where children are growing up on social media, the many restrictions placed on first children can be very taxing. During Obama’s presidency, Sasha and Malia Obama were not allowed to open Twitter accounts and they had very limited access to Facebook. Although it’s surely an honor to be a part of the first family, it can be hard for children to be isolated from doing what other kids are doing. Dr. Jim Ronan, author, and professor of political science at Villanova University listed another setback that former presidents have discussed and that’s missing out on their children’s school events and hobbies. The amount of security that would need to be present at such events would be overwhelming. For this reason, some presidents’ children attended school right in the White House (complete with a classroom and a playground).
Conveniently enough, Michelle Obama isn’t such a fan of social media for young children anyways. She shared “I still am not a big believer in Facebook for young people … particularly for them, because they’re in the public eye. Some of it’s stuff they don’t need to see and be a part of … So we try to protect them from too much of the public voice.” Another interesting word on social media; it was recently reported that the president cannot block people on social media as it goes against the First Amendment.
Earning Some Extra Money
Everybody likes to earn a little extra cash, right? Well, while the president earns a hefty $400,000 per year, he’s forbidden from earning more money outside of his salary. So, don’t expect to be seeing the president moonlighting anytime soon.
If the president owns a business prior to taking office, they must take a hands-off approach to how it is run. Meaning, they must leave the business in somebody else’s hands. If they have investments (which almost every president does) it must go into a blind trust during their time in service.
Donald Trump, as a candidate for president in 2016, famously boasted that he “could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” and wouldn’t lose any of his voters. And who knows what would happen if he actually did. While it would seem that the president is above the law, they are expected to follow laws just like the rest of us. Meaning, they aren’t allowed to break laws and are charged for breaking the law like any other average citizen. Keep in mind, being charged with a crime and actually facing punishment aren’t the same thing.
If a sitting president violates the law during their term in office, Congress deals with the situation as they see fit. The House of Representatives can act to impeach a president while the Senate can have the president taken to court, just like any other citizen.
Every day is Planned
When you’re the president of the United States, your days are planned right down to the minute. You’re lucky if you’re able to squeeze in something that wasn’t on the schedule. And anyway, even if you had some extra time, the secret service probably won’t allow you, unless you give them a heads up of about four hours.
President Obama once attempted to organize an impromptu basketball game. However, his attempt failed as he didn’t let the secret service know enough ahead of time. The secret service requires enough time to make sure that there is zero threat to the president’s life.
Planning the Presidential Funeral
Have you planned for your funeral yet? As morbid sounding as that is, this is one of the president’s first responsibilities soon after taking office; they must plan for their funeral. “It may sound shocking, but during the first week of moving into the White House, the president is asked to plan his or her funeral should anything occur during their presidency,” George W. Bush’s deputy assistant said.
A president’s funeral is a length five-day event that is full of choreographed ceremonies. Out of the 45 presidents who have served the United States, eight of them have died while in office. Four of them were assassinated. Assuming the position as the leader of the free world makes you a target for a lot of hate, and along with that, people who are willing to sacrifice their own lives to take you down. The White House Historical Association said “It is a cold realization that greets a new president at the White House door. In many ways, funeral services are [a] final conversation with the nation, and illustrate something about the man and the way in which he wishes to be remembered,” adding that Ford needed to be convinced to include certain elements in his funeral.
The Presidential Taster
The serving president is not allowed to eat anything outside of the office without their designated taster trying it first. While having a taste tester may seem like a pretty cool perk, it’s not all that it’s made out to be. The taste tester isn’t there to make sure that the food tastes the best, but more so to check for any dangers, like poison.
On one occasion in 2013, during a lunch meeting with Senate Republicans, President Obama didn’t have his taster nearby. Could he just dig in with the rest of the guests? Nope! Instead, he had to sit there with his delicious meal staring at him.
If the president writes a book, memoir, or something that requires publishing during his time in office, which is highly unlikely as the leader of the free world, he wouldn’t be able to secure a copyright.
The US copyright laws state that any work created by a federal government employee, including the president, while in office, is considered public domain. Meaning, anything unclassified that the president says, writes, or does is free for anyone to use and repurpose.
No Formal Role for Family Members
Typically, the president’s family members aren’t supposed to get any formal roles in the White House administration. This should be a no-brainer because when people close to the Commander in Chief, especially family members, take on jobs in the Oval Office, the public usually views it as a classic case of nepotism. Not to mention, it mixes business with one’s personal life, and that is something that should be avoided.
Recently, this unspoken rule was bent when President Trump appointed his daughter, Ivanka Trump, as his assistant and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as his senior advisor. Although it is not illegal per se, that move was still frowned upon by many.
An Obligation to Preserve History
You could say that living in the White House is kind of like living in a museum. Especially with all of the “do not touch” stuff everywhere. When the First Families move in they are encouraged to make their new living space feel like home but at the same time, they are obligated to preserve the special collections inside the White House…such as the famous grand piano, sculptures and various signature artworks that decorate its walls.
There are even certain rooms that the first family is not allowed entry. There’s also a White House curator that’s in charge of making sure each first family cares for the house’s treasures, and the younger the first children are, the more that they are watched but most importantly they are taught very early on that they need to respect the history.
Utilities are on the House
While living in the white house, the first family isn’t responsible for paying the utility bills but they are; however; unlike what most people believe, they don’t just live off the taxpayer’s dollars. They are responsible for financing their food, toiletries, dry cleaning, and other personal items and services like the average American.
So as the old saying goes, “there’s no such things as a free lunch”, not even for the First Family. Fun fact: the White House kitchen staff has its own official Instagram page, just in case you’re curious about what they’re cooking for the White House staff and the First Family.
Officially known as the Naval Support Facility Thurmont as it is technically a military installation, Camp David is also the retreat place for U.S. presidents. Its construction lasted from 1935 until 1938 and was originally intended to be a camp for federal government agents and their families. In 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared it a presidential retreat spot and even renamed it “Shangri-La” (after the fictional Himalayan paradise in the novel Lost Horizon by James Hilton). Camp David later received its present name from Dwight D. Eisenhower, who renamed the camp after his father and grandson, both named David. The country home is fully equipped with a swimming pool, gym, and even an aircraft hanger.
While people know that Camp David is “somewhere within Catoctin Mountain Park in Maryland,” maps are not allowed to show the camp’s exact location for safety reasons. Similar to Area 51 where only authorized personnel are allowed on the premises. Camp David is widely known to be the place where you can find the President’s when the pressures of running the free world become too burdensome, yet conspiracy theorists have other theories about what really goes on there.
Air Force One
Air Force One is the official air traffic control name for the United States Air Force aircraft that is carrying the President and his family. The idea of designating specific military aircraft to transport the First Family arose in 1943 when officials became concerned about using commercial airlines for presidential travel. Since the 90s, the presidential fleet has consisted of two Boeing VC-25As and Boeing 747-200B aircraft and the Air Force plans to buy two Boeing 747-8s to become the next Air Force Ones.
The Air Force One’s 4,000 square feet of space is fully equipped with a medical operating room, private quarters, and the capacity to feed 100 people at a time. it has been reported that it costs around $200,000 an hour to operate this iconic aircraft. Every president since Roosevelt has flown on dedicated presidential airplanes, except for John F. Kennedy who was the first president to fly in a jet he preferred.
Marine One is the code name for any United States Marine Corps aircraft, usually a helicopter, carrying the President. Today the Marine One is either the rather large Sikorsky VH-3D Sea King or the newer and smaller VH-60N or “White Hawk”.
The first use of helicopters for transporting the Commander in Cheif was in 1957 when President Eisenhower traveled on a Bell UH-13J Sioux. He needed a quick way to get to his summer home in Pennsylvania and using the Air Force One would have been extremely impractical considering the short distance. Not to mention there was also no airfield nearby with a paved runway to support fixed-wing aircraft. So, Eisenhower requested an alternative mode of transportation and thus, Marine One was born. Of course it the earlier aircraft lacked all of the “creature comforts” found on its more modern successors, like air conditioning and toilets for in-flight use. It is also equipped with anti-missile systems and ballistic armor. Fun fact: Any Marine Corps aircraft carrying the Vice President has the code name Marine Two, clever, right?
The children of the First Family typically attend private school. This isn’t just because private schools usually offer a better education — it also has to do with the child’s safety. The president might feel more comfortable putting their kids in a “more secure and customized educational environment,” especially when you consider their public exposure that comes with their parent’s new position.
In the last century, only one U.S. president has sent his children to a D.C. public school, and he was President Jimmy Carter with his youngest daughter Amy Carter. He stood up against the idea that private schools are better than public schools, so he enrolled his 9-year-old daughter in a public school in Washington, D.C. where, as a white girl, she was part of the minority. President Trump also broke presidential tradition when he sent his son Barron Trump to St. Andrew’s in Potomac, Maryland instead of the popular first family school of choice, Sidwell Friends.
Tea With the Queen
Queen Elizabeth II, ascended to the throne in 1952 and is the world’s longest-reigning monarch. She has played an important role in facilitating the US and UK’s diplomatic relations and has met with 12 American presidents. She first traveled to Washington, DC back in 1951 to meet President Harry Truman, on behalf of her father King George IV, she was still a princess.
Most recently the Queen hosted President Donald Trump at Windsor Castle during one of his visits to England, just one of the perks of being the leader of the free world!
The First Ladies Should Tackle Tough Issues
The role of the first lady has evolved over the years, mostly thanks to the first ladies like Eleanor Roosevelt, who took on more responsibility beyond hostessing. Over the course of the 20th century, it has become increasingly common for first ladies to chose a specific cause that they want to promote, usually one that is not politically divisive. They can even hire staff to support their activities.
Some popular examples include Lady Bird Johnson, who pioneered environmental protection and beautification, Pat Nixon encouraged volunteerism and traveled abroad frequently for her cause. Betty Ford supported women’s rights; Rosalynn Carter advocated for those with mental disabilities; Nancy Reagan started the ‘Just Say No’ drug awareness campaign; Barbara Bush promoted literacy; Hillary Clinton aimed to reform the healthcare system; Laura Bush also supported women’s rights and childhood literacy. The latest first ladies, Michelle Obama supported military families and tackled childhood obesity, and Melania Trump advocated against cyberbullying and drug use among minors.
The First Family Sometimes Get in Debt
It’s customary for the first family to pick up the tab for every meal their guests eat and drink at the White House and Camp David. In fact, former first lady, Laura Bush, expressed being unprepared for some of the costs after becoming the first lady in 2001, “There were some costs that I was not prepared for,” she wrote. “I was amazed by the sheer number of designer clothes that I was expected to buy, like the women before me, to meet the expectations for a first lady.” This also caught Nancy Reagan by surprise. “Nobody had told us that the president and his wife are charged for every meal, as well as for such incidentals as dry cleaning, toothpaste, and other toiletries,” she said in an interview about life in the White House in January 1981.
All of those expenses add up over the course of a presidency, especially if the president serves multiple terms, leaving the First Family in debt. In fact, former President Bill Clinton was $16 million in debt by the time he left the White House in 2001. When he left office in 1825, President James Monroe was deeply in debt.
Post-Presidency Travel Perks
Some of the presidential perks last beyond their four (or eight) years in office. The General Services Administration provide former presidents with a sum of money to cover travel and business expenses after their service to the country. While the media often shows photos of presidents having fanning dinners with diplomats… playing gold with other politicians, the truth is they’ll often business meetings.
Like Nancy Reagan once said, “Presidents don’t get vacations – they just get a change of scenery. The job goes with you.” It sounds like it’s a well-deserved gift considering how stressful leading the country can be. Do you think a vacation budget is the least we can do after their service to the country?
The Presidential Pet
One time-honored and a rather fun tradition that the First Family are expected to go along with is getting a pet. President George W. Bush had a dog named Spot, and the Obamas had their dog, Bo. It actually began with Thomas Jefferson, who had a mockingbird and some bear cubs, not your typical pet, we know.
Ed Lengel, the chief historian at the White House Historical Association, once told CNN that the presidential pet is meant to “soften their image” and “broadens their appeal.” He added, “They help create an atmosphere of the White House as a family, a lived-in place and not just a stiff museum, but a place where a family lives and plays and enjoys each other’s company.” President Trump, the current president, is actually the first president since Jefferson to break this tradition, as he does not have a pet.
The Must Clean Up For Dinner
Constantly attending formal dinners not only puts the president and the first lady on exhibition but their children as well. Presidential kids are always in the public eye, not to mention their every action is carefully scrutinized. As a child, first daughter Amy Carter was once criticized for brining books along to keep her entertained when she attended a state dinner. Presidential kids must always be dressed to a T and on their best behavior for such functions not that that will always keep the critics at bay.
The chief historian of the White House Historical Association Edward Lengel explained “They still have to wear nice clothes — they can’t come to a formal dinner wearing a Snoopy shirt or something. And they have to eat carefully, in a certain way. They have to be polite and shake hands.”
No Keys to the White House
For kids of the First Family, sneaking out of the White House is next to impossible. Normal teenagers across the nation can simply climb out of a window in the middle of the night and climb back in by morning, but remember, the first family isn’t even allowed to open any windows. And even if a rebellious presidential kid does manage to slip past their Secret Service agents, they wouldn’t be able to get back in the house without anyone noticing as they can’t have “the keys” to the White House.
The doors of the White House automatically lock, which in the past, has led to at least two presidents, Gerald Ford, and Barack Obama, to accidentally getting locked out of their home. In Ford’s case, he went to walk his dog out at night and then couldn’t access the White House’s elevator that led to his room. In Obama’s case, he had returned home early from a trip and couldn’t get into the Oval Office.
They Can’t Keep Expensive Gifts
Being part of the First Family definitely comes with its perks, like getting gifts from visiting dignitaries and other guests. Unfortunately, many of the presents given to them are considered ‘government property’ and go straight to the National Archive to be logged in and have their value estimated. Everything above $390 will stay at the National Archive.
If a member of the First Family wishes to keep a gift above the price point, they have to pay for it at market value. One gift Hilary Clinton didn’t want to give up was a black pearl necklace given to her by Myanmar state counselor Aung San Suu Kyihad, She had to shell out nearly $1000 for it, and George W. Bush forked over $14,000 for a shotgun he was gifted. Sasha and Malia Obama weren’t allowed to sport the Adidas gear given to them by Angela Merkel (valued at $557) or the national soccer team jerseys autographed by Lionel Messi (valued at $1,700) presented by Mauricio Macri. What a bummer!
Home Sweet Home
Naturally, family units are expected to stick together, whether you’re in the White House or not, so, it is pretty unheard of for families to live separately from the member that just became President of the United States. But it’s important to remember that this new role isn’t just a lifestyle change for the incoming president but for the whole family as well. The first children are often forced to leave their friends behind in order to move to Washington, DC. Which often comes with disappointment, especially if they are junior high to high school age. But hey, at least they get to say that their dad is the president and that they get to live in the White House, that surely counts for something.
Fun fact, though, The Trump Administration broke this tradition when Melania and her son Barron continued to live in their Fifth Avenue penthouse in New York City while Barron finished his school.
The Whole Family Attends The Inauguration
The soon-to-be First Family usually join all of the big events during the campaigning period, not to mention on election night when they must stay up at all hours of the night to find out who’s the next president. It has to become nerve-racking…and tiring at times. And if you’re on the winning side, then buckle up. The ride is just getting started, you still have to stick around for the inauguration festivities and whatever else the next four to eight years unfold.
You may have noticed how the First Children sometimes have a bored look on their faces like they’re tired or just wishing they could be doing something else. Maybe even just hang out in their rooms and play video games and let the grown-ups do all the “grown-up stuff”.
The Parents Make the Rules
At the end of the day, like most families, the parents still make the rules. So with all the restrictions and come with living in the White House The President and First Lady not only govern the country but their family as well.
For example, Barack and Michelle Obama, really wanted their children to stay grounded and didn’t become spoiled considering the fact that the White House comes fully staffed. When they moved into the White House, the girls still had a bedtime (8 p.m.) and were expected to tidy up after themselves, set their own alarms, and get themselves up and of bed in the morning.
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