It was the culmination of the transfer of power: President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden walked their way to their new home on Wednesday night (20), climbed the White House steps to reach the North Portico , waved to the crowd as a military band played “Hail the Chief,” turned to enter – and found a closed door.
As the world watched and as a group of Biden’s parents approached behind them, the first couple waited.
Does the president have to open the two large halves of the door himself? Former President Donald Trump, who had left the White House eight hours earlier, had he locked out?
The door was opened soon after and the Biden entered. The embarrassing moment lasted only a few seconds – a dozen or so – but it did not go unnoticed in Washington.
“There was a violation of protocol when the doors were not opened for the first family upon arrival at North Portico,” said Lea Berman, who was Social Secretary to President George W. Bush at the White House.
“The delay in opening the door confused me a bit,” said Betty Monkman, who has been a Conservative in the White House for 30 years and has helped oversee the changing of the guard between past administrations.
The breach of protocol was a small but curious element of confusion in the chaotic two and a half months between election day and the day of Biden’s inauguration. Nothing was normal in the transition from the Trump administration to the Biden administration, and handing over the White House to its new occupants was no exception.
One notable fact was the absence of a “chief bailiff” (something like a director or administrator in the White House) to greet the Biden on their arrival. While it is not clear what caused the delay with the doors – which are usually opened by Navy guards – the White House chief usher, who manages the residence, had been fired less than five years ago. hours earlier.
Timothy Harleth, who was the Trump couple’s chief usher and a former room manager at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, was busy moving furniture on the day of the presidential inauguration when, at 11:30 a.m., he was told his services were no longer needed. , according to people monitoring the situation.
The president’s lawyer soon to take over called the White House lawyer on Wednesday, according to a person who followed suit, and said the Biden intended to bring in someone of his choosing to to do work. Harleth’s departure was first reported by CNN.
Timothy Harleth was chosen by Melania Trump in 2017 when she was first lady. His duties included taking charge of personnel matters and managing the budgets of the President’s family residence.
“He was chosen because of his impressive professional experience and administrative skills,” Melania said in 2017.
The post of chief bailiff has traditionally had nothing to do with politics, but Melania’s decision to hire an official from the Trump organization has politicized the post, despite Harleth’s attempt to qualify her White House job. nothing more than a stopover in its long term. career in the hotel industry.
The work for the White House was well paid – some former bailiffs said the salary was around US $ 200,000 (R $ 1.08 million) per year – but the workload is heavy, especially if the president is someone who usually wakes up early or goes to bed late. Donald Trump was both (Biden, according to people familiar with his habits, is usually not particularly active in the morning).
Since polling day, Harleth has found himself in an untenable position: trying to begin preparations for the arrival of a new resident at the White House, while the occupier has refused to admit he will leave it. Trump never received Biden in the White House, as tradition dictates. And Melania didn’t invite Jill Biden to visit the residence until her moving day.
Mark Meadows, the former White House chief of staff, was unhappy with Harleth for attempting to send residence briefing materials to Biden’s transition team in November, people familiar with the process. A spokesperson for Meadows did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for Jill Biden either.
It’s unclear who Jill Biden will invite to take Harleth’s place, but it is said that there are several Deputy Chief Bailiffs still playing their part.
“It has been an honor to serve as Chief Bailiff, a post whose loyalty is not to any particular President, but to the institution of the Presidency,” Harleth said in a statement. “I am proud to have had the opportunity to lead the local team to receive the new first family with the utmost respect and dignity, not only for this administration, but for the future success of the President’s office.”