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Sun Feb 28, 2021, 02:21 PM

The Secret Life of the White House

The residence staff, many of whom have worked there for decades, balance their service of the First Family with their long-term loyalty to the house itself.


Before Inauguration Day, the White House residence staff were already exhausted. For several weeks, many of them had worked sixteen-hour days preparing for the transition—the approximately six-hour-long window between when the Trumps would depart and the Bidens arrive. White House transitions typically demand superhuman effort, but this year’s was among the most physically demanding in recent memory. At risk of falling ill with the coronavirus, staffers worked in close quarters to transform the upstairs rooms of the White House, where the windows don’t open and are paned with thick, bulletproof glass, in accordance with the strong preference of the Secret Service.

In previous transitions, the residence staff brought the White House to a state of as-ready-as-possible without making major changes until the new First Family arrived and redecorated. If a departing family took a personal sofa with them, the staff replaced it with one from the White House collection, so that the incoming family need not walk into a bare room. But, under a new White House chief usher, Timothy Harleth, the transition became a far more ambitious affair. Hired by the Trumps, in 2017, Harleth had previously been a rooms manager at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. Early in the Administration, he had hired a “creative manager,” and on Inauguration Day Harleth enlisted that person to make the upstairs rooms look “ ‘Architectural Digest’-ready,” a residence worker said. In the frantic final hours, the creative manager was laying out guestbooks and new stationery, filling the bookcases with decorative plates and candles, and staging throws on furniture. “They wanted these rooms to look like a high-end hotel,” the worker added.

Harleth wanted to make a good impression on Joe and Jill Biden, who could have extended his tenure. But, Harleth told me, shortly after eleven o’clock on January 20th, less than an hour before the official Presidential changeover, one of the last remaining Trump officials, in the Office of Administration, came to Harleth’s office and told him that the Bidens had requested his departure. The Biden White House hedged on the matter, telling CNN that Harleth was “let go before the Bidens arrived.” (The Trumps could not be reached for comment.) Harleth was shocked at the time, but a week later he told me, “Every family deserves to have the people they want there.”

With or without Harleth, the residence staff soldiered on. The move unfolded at a rapid but methodical pace, with boxes upon boxes stacked and transferred between the historic rooms. “The White House is not big,” another career White House employee, whom I will call Jason, said. “The East Room is chock-full of boxes.” The White House’s two elevators, only one big enough to move furniture, were in constant use. “If you could carry something, it wasn’t going down the elevator,” Jason said. The move was conducted while keeping up appearances for a nationally televised Inauguration celebration later that night. “Imagine your house is being used for a TV show while you were moving, and no one could know you were moving,” Jason said. And, as they always have, the residence staff pulled it off. By the end of the morning, they had set out the Bidens’ family photographs and stocked the kitchen with the family’s favorite foods.

Really interesting look at true unsung heroes and heroines.

More at that linky dinky dink above.

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SoonerPride Feb 28 OP
underpants Feb 28 #1

Response to SoonerPride (Original post)

Sun Feb 28, 2021, 02:41 PM

1. It's a fascinating shuffle

Haven’t read the full article but I understand that only full time regular staff complete the transition. No outside staff or temp contract type things. Many have been there for quite a long time so they aren’t spring chicken

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