Do not believe the moans and complaints of past United States Presidents and First Ladies about how their time in the White House was stressful, expensive and made them come out of it feeling and looking older, with more gray hair to boot. Everyone loves to be in the White House, either as occupants or visitors.
No U.S. President wants to spend only one term of four years. In fact, out of the 45 presidents in history, only 10 served one term. Others had two terms, and even one, Franklin D. Roosevelt, spent three and a half terms from 1933 to 1945; but that was before the amendment restricting tenures to two was passed by Congress in 1947, and was ratified by the States in 1951.
You can then understand why Donald Trump wants a second term to prolong his stay and Joe Biden wants to get into the White House, to make it his new home from 20th January 2021. Yes, pride may be an added reason but the main thing is the magic of the place. Plus Trump does not want the tag of ‘ONE-TERM PRESIDENT.’
Donald Trump probably owns residences even more posh and opulent than the physical White House edifice. At the last count, he had five residences, aside his real estate and hospitality buildings that he can convert to a home. The crown of it all, his Mar-a-Lago resort and residence in Florida has served as his primary residence since 2019.
Then, there is Seven Springs, the 2,631.2 square metre mansion on 81 hectares in Bedford and New Castle, New York. The mansion has sixty rooms, including thirteen bedrooms, twelve baths, and an indoor pool of white marble.
Trump also owns the 38-storey Trump Parc condominium skyscraper at 106 Central Park South, NY, and often privately uses multiple units within it. Trump Park Avenue. He has several apartments at Trump Park Avenue, where his daughter Ivanka lives.
Trump Tower penthouse is the king of all penthouses. It has three storeys and is reportedly worth $100 million, with has gold-trimmed furniture, marble floors, columns, tables, and walls, frescoed ceilings, bronze statues, and crystal chandeliers.
All these residences are there for Donald Trump and his family to occupy but the thrill of living in the White House by virtue of being the President of the United States compares to no other.
The stay in the White House has a lot of perks, not just in residing, but in the power the main tenant, as the number one citizen, wields in the whole wide world.
Americans from far and near come to visit the White House every day or just gawk at the imposing structure through its fencing on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC.
Presidents and First Ladies are mostly delighted to take part in the longstanding tradition of welcoming members of the public to tour the White House. Such visits are usually requested up to three months in advance and no less than 21 days prior to the desired tour date and the tours are scheduled on a first come, first served basis on Fridays and Saturdays.
If you are a citizen of a foreign country, your embassy in Washington, D.C. may be the one to submit a tour request on your behalf.
In March 1987, I had the unique opportunity to visit the White House. Staying in a Holiday Inn that was almost across the road then from the plaza, you could walk by the White House, drive on the avenue, look through the fence and see what is going on inside the compound, unlike our State or Government houses that have high walls and forbidding looking entrance gates as well as ‘no-go-area’ environment.
Ed Meese III was then Attorney-General to President Ronald Reagan and he had come to address us at a workshop organized by the VOA, down in their studio complex at 330 Independence Avenue. The Attorney-General’s office was down the road at 950 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC much closer to the White House, and we suspected Ed Meese, a jovial guy, and Paula Wolfson, then VOA White House Correspondent who was also with us, had somehow swung it for us to visit the American seat of power.
It was the East Wing, though, with the President’s Executive Office over in the West Wing, but the White House is the White House! It has such an imposing structure from outside and huge corridors but the offices inside look like offices everywhere. As the name implies, the building is painted white. It always has been since the first President, George Washington, selected the site for the White House in 1791.
The cornerstone was laid in 1792 and a competition design submitted by Irish-born architect James Hoban was chosen. After eight years of construction, President John Adams and his wife, Abigail, moved into the unfinished house in 1800.
Every President since John Adams has occupied the White House, and it is the home of the President of the United States and his family.
There are 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms, and 6 levels in the Residence. There are also 412 doors, 147 windows, 28 fireplaces, 8 staircases, and 3 elevators and the White House kitchen is able to serve dinner to as many as 140 guests.
At various times in history, the White House has been known as the “President’s Palace,” the “President’s House,” and the “Executive Mansion” but President Theodore Roosevelt officially gave the White House its current name in 1901. This was because nearly every U.S. State had an “executive mansion” for its Governor and Roosevelt believed the name “White House” would distinguish it as the official residence of the President of the United States.
The White House has counterparts all over the world, as residences of Presidents, Heads of State and Government of the different countries, like Nigeria’s Aso Villa in Abuja and Number 10 Downing Street where the British Prime Minister resides.
Other comparable world leaders’ official residences include the Jubilee House, Accra which houses Ghana’s President, Bellevue Palace, Berlin, for the President of Germany, Quinta de Olivos, Olivos, Argentina for the President of Argentina, Los Pinos, Mexico City, Mexico housing the President of Mexico, while 24 Sussex Drive, Ottawa is the residence of the Prime Minister of Canada.
Kirribilli House, Sydney is preferred by most Prime Ministers of Australia as official residence over The Lodge in Canberra; Mahlamba Ndlopfu, Pretoria, is for the President of South Africa; Palácio da Alvorada, Brasilia, houses the President of Brazil; France’s President resides at the Élysée Palace, Paris; Zhongnanhai, Beijing is where the President of The People’s Republic of China dwells; the President of South Korea lives in The Blue House and the President of Italy stays at Quirinal Palace, Rome.
Although the British Prime Minister resides at 10 Downing Street, London, the Queen of England who is the Head of State has Buckingham Palace, London, as her most official residence. Her counterpart in Japan, the Emperor, has the Tokyo Imperial Palace as his home; the Kremlin in Moscow, is home to the President of Russia; India’s President resides in the Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi; while the Presidential Palace, Ankara, is where the President of Turkey resides.
All these official residences possess history, grandeur, charm, design, opulence, distinctiveness and splendour, some even more unique than the White House in Washington DC; but the Americans think and know that the power that radiates inside their President’s residence has no comparism.
The presidential office in the White House, known as the Oval Office, is located in the West Wing. While the West Wing generally serves the President’s executive office staff, the East Wing serves as office space for the First Lady and her staff, and others.
The Vice-President’s Office is also in the West Wing, and he or she and his or her staff maintain a set of offices in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, located next to the West Wing on the White House premises. This office, is called the Vice-President’s Ceremonial Office.
On the other hand, while the office of the Vice-President is located on the White House grounds, Vice Presidents with their families reside on the grounds of the United States Naval Observatory. Historically, Vice-Presidents and their families lived in their own homes, but the cost of securing these private residences grew substantially over the years and finally, in 1974, Congress agreed to refurbish the house at the Naval Observatory as home for the Vice-President.
Come 20th January 2021, if and when Joe Biden is inaugurated, he and his family will effectively become the official tenants in the White House. Otherwise, Donald Trump will continue to enjoy that privilege.
But living in the White House is not a totally free ride and being President doesn’t necessarily come cheap.
Facilities that are available to the President include access to the White House staff, medical care, recreation, housekeeping and security services. The federal government pays for state dinners and other official functions, but the President pays for personal, family and guest dry cleaning and food.
While first families don’t have to pay rent at the White House, they are responsible for personal costs, including the food they eat while in the house. Same goes for personal stuff like hair cut for the man and hair stylist for First Lady. If the First Lady is the expensive type, then her husband will pay more, just as if they were residing in their personal homes. So no manicure or pedicure for free, and other trimmings.
Do not believe all the stuff about the state providing the wardrobe – no way! Although the First Lady is expected to wear designer clothes to special events – she may even be criticized if seen in the same dress more than once – she has to pay for those clothes.
While the facilities people will provide whatever you need on request, the bill for whatever they have provided for all members of the first family will come in monthly, itemizing everything the family owes, including food, dry cleaning, hourly wages for waiters and cleanup crews at private parties they have had.
Remember Hillary Clinton saying she and her husband were in debt when they left the White House? She was not exaggerating.
Added to the debt is that first families are expected to maintain some public ‘face’ after office and this costs them a lot of money too, if they did not make money before becoming the first couple.
The U.S. President’s annual pay is currently $400,000. But there are a lot of pecks of office, not just being regarded as the most powerful man in the world, but the knowledge that your word is law, not just in your country but all over the world, with the military and economic might others can only dream of.
Also, when a President leaves the White House, he is entitled to an annual pension of about $200,000, health care, paid official travel and an office for life.
An already wealthy former President like Donald Trump should not feel any hardship, with all his real estate and businesses spread all over the world.
Apart from the President’s six-figure salary and getting to live in the luxurious White House, other perks are intimidating!
The President receives a travel budget of $100,000 and a $19,000 allowance for entertainment. While the presidential salary is taxable, the other bonus benefits are not, according to the US tax code.
The White House is also home to nearly 100 permanent residents including maids, cooks, a plumber, a florist, and a head housekeeper. Presidents can enjoy leisure activities in their own bowling alley, billiard room, and other sports areas.
The White House has rooms dedicated to different social activities including a bowling alley, and include tennis courts, a putting green and a basketball court. Presidents get to watch movies at home in a tiered home theater of over 50 seats.
The President also has access to a country home in Maryland – the Camp David, located in the Catoctin Mountain Park in Frederick County, Maryland. The country home is fully equipped with a gym, swimming pool, and aircraft hangar. It has been the presidential retreat since the 1930s.
The President’s perks continue – full access to Air Force One, the customized, highly sophisticated Boeing 747-200B, with 4,000 square feet of space, a medical operating room, private quarters for the President, and the capacity to feed 100 people at a time. Reports say it costs about $200,000 an hour to operate Air Force One.
The President also has access to the helicopter, Marine One, which follows the president wherever he goes. Armed with anti-missile systems and ballistic armour, it can operate rescue missions and cruise at more than 150 miles per hour even if one engine fails.
On land, the President rides around in a fleet of armoured cars, called ‘The Beasts’, which are luxurious, bullet and bomb-proof.
Now this – the president is fully protected at all times, even when he is retired, with the Secret Service always nearby, but protection doesn’t end after a President leaves the White House. Retired Presidents receive the perk for life and their children are protected until the age of 16.
Presidents get access to premier health insurance. While the White House has its own clinic with examination rooms, medical equipment and military doctors on its staff, the President can also receive treatment at Walter Reed Medical Centre, with a presidential suite, which housed Donald Trump last September when he contracted COVID-19.
At the end of it all, presidents and their immediate family members are honoured with a state funeral, like the ones reserved for Heads of State, which can last for up to 10 days, with full military honours, including a military escort, flyover and a 21-gun salute.
Plus – the President has the nuclear button or the nuclear football (also known as the atomic football, the President’s emergency satchel, the Presidential Emergency Satchel, the button, the black box, or just the football) which is a briefcase, the contents of which are to be used by the President of the United States to authorize a nuclear attack. What power!
So you can see the attraction of the White House and the temptation to get there, stay there and even over-stay against all odds!
IMAGE CREDIT: WHITE HOUSE, WIKI
Epa Ogie Eboigbe, veteran journalist, broadcaster and public affairs specialist writes on, and analyses current and historical issues with a ‘wise pen’.