OPINION: Regarding The Office Of The First Lady Publicly Weighing In On A White House Employee

Jennifer Boswell Pickens | White House East Wing historian

The Office of the First Lady made headlines for publicly weighing in on a White House employee whom they felt should no longer have the privilege of serving in the Executive Office of the President.

This was significant because Mrs. Trump recently stated in an interview that there are still people working for her husband that she did not trust. Bold? Yes. Unprecedented? Not really.

Historically, first ladies have been very influential in terms of being one of their husband’s closest private unofficial advisors on a host of issues.

The impact of the first lady has been largely underestimated. First ladies contribute greatly by aiding to the diplomacy that is essential for the American presidency, which sometimes includes being that of a president’s closest advisor and political partner.

The ways that this dynamic has played out are as unique as relationships between presidents and first ladies. This is what makes this particular president and his “political partner” so powerful.

Disrespecting any first lady and/or her East Wing staff is never a good idea, and there are lines of fired staffers that can attest to it. Rumors were rampant throughout Washington about whether or not Mrs. Barbara Bush got fed up with Chief of Staff John Sununu earlier than her husband actually did.

First lady Barbara Bush, the fiercest defender of her husband, however, was not shy on who was best suited to be around him. She often worked behind the scene on things without it being reported, and her nickname “silver fox” took on multiple meanings to some.

In one story, a staffer reported: “She knows how things work, and if she doesn’t want to read about what she did, she won’t do it in that way.” That doesn’t mean that it is right or wrong to be publicly vocal about their opinions- again it is a job that is left up to the first lady to define as she sees fit.

It was well known that first lady Nancy Reagan and Chief of Staff Don Regan were not getting along and rumors ran wild throughout the Beltway that she and the president were fighting about it. During the first lady’s Christmas preview Chris Wallace asked if she thought he should be fired.

Mrs. Reagan deliberately chose to not go public and instead replied, “Come on, it’s Christmas” and surprisingly by today’s standards, the questioning ended.

But just 48 hours after President Reagan found out about Don Regan hanging up on Mrs. Reagan, he was fired. Don Regan never liked taking her calls or listening to her ideas. Lesson being: hanging up on the first lady is always a bad choice.

Karl Rove once joked, “Laura Bush intimidates me. All the Bushes — well, most of the Bush men — marry incredibly strong women, and they all intimidate me. Barbara Bush — I’ve lived in fear of for 37 years.”

There are times when the intervention of a first lady can work in the staffer’s favor. When Sam Skinner took over from John Sununu, as George H.W. Bush’s chief of staff, it was whispered that he was to replace David Demarest as communications director. But Demarest kept his job — reportedly because Barbara defended him.

Ken Duberstein always believed he became chief of staff because two White House aides first planted the idea with Mrs. Reagan. 

The East Wing has always added value to the White House and should be treated as such. First ladies are often more popular than the president and can be a political, diplomatic, social and fundraising force in a good way. East Wing programs and initiatives like “Just Say No”, “Let’s Move”, and “Be Best” end up being helpful to the entire administration.

These women have been very protective, throughout campaigns; past positions or jobs, and have always had their husband’s best interest in mind. When they speak, people should listen as they listen to presidents.

Like so many other previous first ladies, Mrs. Trump proved that she has a keen political insight into policy, people, personnel and the press. She has a job, she is effectively operating in, that was recently described at the Bush Institute as, “a role without a rulebook.”

Jennifer Boswell Pickens (@JenniferPickensis a White House East Wing historian with an expertise in White House traditions, social events and first ladies. She is the author of two books, Christmas at the White House and Pets at the White House.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.

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