Jill Biden spent her first week as First Lady reshaping the role. Melania Trump spent hers isolated in a tower

New first lady signals she will be an active and constant presence in the White House - drawing stark contrasts to her predecessor

Chris Riotta
New York
Wednesday 27 January 2021 20:34
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Related video: Jill Biden delivers cookies to National Guard members following parking garage backlash

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First Lady Dr Jill Biden is no stranger to the White House.

As the longtime public school educator and former second lady walked down Pennsylvania avenue during her husband’s inauguration ceremony earlier this month, she did so with a full set of staffers prepared to take over the East Wing — as well as some lofty ideas to go with her new role.

Dr Biden tapped former US Ambassador to Uruguay Julissa Reynoso Pantaleon to serve as her chief of staff before Inauguration Day could even arrive. The political strategist and prominent attorney who previously worked under former President Barack Obama would help the new first lady roll out her agenda, which included the relaunch of Joining Forces, an initiative she co-founded with former First Lady Michelle Obama providing support for military families.

Whereas the national gaze is typically cast on the new president during their first days in office, the first lady’s presence could be felt in a recently unfamiliar way. Just four years ago, former First Lady Melania Trump had not yet moved to the White House during the first week in her new role.

Read more: Follow live updates on the Biden administration

She had not announced any hard plans to move to Washington, opting to instead stay in her penthouse suite at the Trump Tower in New York while her son finished the school year. 

Some reports, including one by Washington Post reporter Mary Jordan, later suggested she was actually holding out on moving to the White House as leverage to renegotiate a prenup deal with the former president. A former aide denied the reporting as “false information.”

Ms Trump also had not yet selected a chief of staff until she was days onto the job, the first of many departures from conventional norms during her tenure in the position.

And even though Ms Trump and her husband were provided tours of the White House ahead of move-in day by their predecessors, they refused to extend that courtesy — a friendly American tradition — to their successors.

Meanwhile, Dr Biden made unscheduled appearances throughout the first week of the new administration, surprising National Guard troops stationed at the Capitol and thanking them for their service and protection following the deadly pro-Trump riots on 6 January, as Congress convened to certify the election.

“I just want to say thank you from President Biden and the whole, the entire Biden family,” she said while holding a basket of treats, adding: “The White House baked you some chocolate chip cookies.”

“I’m a National Guard mom,” she added, handing out the cookies and saying they were a “small thank you” for their service.

In some ways the Biden administration has represented a return to normal, with both the president and first lady resuming standard practices followed by the vast majority of their recent predecessors.

But the administration has also turned an historic page for Capitol Hill, unveiling at least 100 notable policy actions in President Joe Biden’s first full week. The White House has also begun swearing in the most diverse Cabinet in American history, including Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, the first woman to lead the department, as well as Avril Haines serving as the first female director of National Intelligence.

As for Dr Biden, the first lady also plans to continue working while in her role for the next four years, returning to teach English at Northern Virginia Community College.

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