Friday , July 30 2021

White House staff welcomes new first family: ‘The residence has life again’


“The residence has life in it again,” a White House source told CNN of the energy inside. “It’s the honeymoon period where everything feels new.”

There were nighttime movie binges in the White House movie theater, complete with snacks from the White House kitchen cooks, many of the Bidens’ five older grandchildren piling into the seats to watch, said another source familiar with the activities. The increased activity was met with pandemic precautions, including mask wearing.

On Sunday, the first dogs arrived from Delaware, where they had been waiting until things were unpacked and settled enough to allow a comfortable entry for the two German Shepherds at their new pad.

“Champ is enjoying his new dog bed by fireplace and Major loved running around the South Lawn,” the White House said a press release early Monday morning. Champ lived at the vice president’s residence during the Biden’s time there, and Major was adopted by the family in 2018 from a Delaware pet rescue.

Sunday saw a church-and-bagel run by the President, son Hunter and granddaughters Finnegan and Maisy. The narrow streets of Georgetown were clogged with motorcade vehicles while Hunter ran to grab bagels from Call Your Mother, a popular deli. (The choice of stop was tinged with a shmear of swamp: one of Call Your Mother’s owners and investors is Jeff Zients, Biden’s Covid “czar.” According to the Washingtonian, much of the recipe-testing for the deli’s first location was done in Zients’ kitchen.)

Biden’s visit to a DC dining establishment on Day 5 of his presidency already ties him with the number of local restaurants former President Donald Trump visited. In his four years in Washington, Trump seldom ate out and when he did, only did so at one place — the steakhouse at the Trump hotel.

Yet all of the new people in the White House residence meant more stringent Covid-19 precautions, a stark reminder of the pandemic amid a week of celebratory events.

“The family was good about it,” said the White House source of adherence to mask-wearing and being socially distant from staffers.

“Every employee is masked especially when near the family,” added a longtime residence staff member who said the Biden family does remove their masks once on the second floor of their private quarters. The staff member told CNN that the majority of the residence workers — including ushers, butlers, housekeepers and cooks — have had at least the first round of Covid-19 vaccination and several have received both shots.

The White House did not immediately respond to a CNN request for comment on the staff vaccinations.

The residence staff is operating “as usual,” said the first White House source, noting the departure of chief usher and Trump hire, Timothy Harleth, which occurred on Inauguration Day. The move was initiated by a senior Biden administration official prior to the first family’s arrival at the White House. White House residence staff typically stay on in their roles through different administrations, politically unaffiliated with presidents and first ladies. But Harleth was hired by Melania Trump in 2017 from Trump’s Washington hotel, where he was a manager. In recent weeks, he had made a play to stay in the Biden White House, say several sources, to no avail.

“He was not particularly well-liked,” said a former White House official of Harleth’s reputation inside the White House, adding there was friction between Harleth and Trump’s social secretary.

The chief usher’s office is currently being operated by Katie Hinson, who was deputy chief usher under Trump, until the first lady installs her choice to fill the role of chief.

Kate Anderson Brower contributed to this report.

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