The White House was visited again by former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama, for the unveiling of their official portraits, reviving the bipartisan tradition that stalled under the Trump administration. During the official visit, President Joe Biden celebrated the former first couple at a ceremony in the East Room, saying: “Barack and Michelle, welcome home.”
Since 1965, the White House Historical Association has facilitated acquiring portraits of presidents and first ladies. According to the association, most presidents and first ladies select artists before they leave office. The portraits are displayed in the White House, once completed.
Sitting presidents typically host their immediate predecessors for the unveiling of their official portraits, regardless of party affiliation. This is what then-President Bill Clinton did for George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush did for Clinton, and Obama did for the younger Bush, said NBC News.
During his time in office, former President Donald Trump did not host an unveiling ceremony. For his lack of such a ceremony for the Obamas, there was no official explanation. Until now, the portraits, along with the artists commissioned, were kept secret. Robert McCurdy was the selected artist by Obama, while Sharon Sprung was the one Michelle Obama commissioned.
The former president was drawn to McCurdy’s work for his lifelike depictions, he said. “His work is so precise that a glance it looks like a photograph,” said Barack Obama. “Presidents so often get airbrushed, even take on a mythical status. What I want people to remember about Michelle and me, is presidents and first ladies are human beings like everyone else. We have our gifts and we have our flaws,” he said.
Michelle Obama spoke about the importance of tradition and the peaceful transition of power but did not mention Trump by his name directly. “You see, the people they make their voices heard with their vote. We hold an inauguration to ensure a peaceful transition of power. And once our time is up, we move on. And all that remains in this hallowed place are our good efforts. And these portraits, portraits that connect our history to the present day, portraits that hang here as history continues to be made,” said the former first lady.
The event was also attended by first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and second gentleman Doug Emhoff, as well as former staffers from the Obama administration. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was asked during a news briefing whether Biden would hold the same ceremony for Trump should a portrait of him be done, but she deferred questions to the White House Historical Association.