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Melania Trump Breaks With Some First Lady Traditions


Let's discuss a different member of the first family, Melania Trump. She spent the weekend breaking with some traditions and abiding by others. She did not escort the wife of the visiting Japanese prime minister around Washington. That's a typical task for the first lady.

But she did join President Trump, Prime Minister Abe and his wife at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. So we're going to talk with someone who pays close attention to first ladies. Anita McBride was chief of staff for first lady Laura Bush. She's now at the American University School of Public Affairs. Welcome to the program.

ANITA MCBRIDE: Good morning. Thank you for having me, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's a pleasure. Big visit with a major ally - lots of protocol for a first lady. As someone who is familiar with this, what did you notice about the choices Melania Trump made this past weekend?

MCBRIDE: Actually, I watched the visit down in Florida to the Japanese garden at the botanical garden in Delray, Fla., as something that was, as you say, very traditional but also very lovely and a nod to the culture of Japan while visiting an American site, an American park. So I thought that that was very well-done.

I thought that it appeared that the two first ladies enjoyed each other's company. They certainly are spending a lot of time together this weekend. It is an important ally. And I thought that was a good start. And I would also say, for the visit around Washington, that it's not always typical.


MCBRIDE: It is not really required because, oftentimes, the embassy here of the visitor will want to take them around to do things that are important for them and to meet people of their community like she did - like Mrs. Abe did - with the Cherry Blossom Festival organizers, which is something Japan, you know, really is very involved with us at every year.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right. But I think one of the issues that has become interesting is the first lady's absence.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: She's not living at the White House. She's staying in New York with her son until the end of the school year.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Is that very far out of the norm? Are we seeing something different?

MCBRIDE: Well, we are seeing something different, something that we're not used to seeing as Americans. You know, I think we have an expectation that - firstly, that the entire, you know, first family lives together in the White House. Certainly, that's our most recent example with the Obamas. And we also know Mrs. Obama fully contemplated not moving to Washington right away in 2009 and thought maybe her girls should finish school in Chicago.

She made a different decision, took about nine months or so to roll out her first initiative - so I think the example being that every person that comes into this job takes their time. And they rewrite the position description in a way that suits them and defines, you know, whatever our expectations might be of it and what we might like to see.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right. Ivanka Trump, Mr. Trump's daughter, has been front and center, though. Can she do part of the first lady's job if Mrs. Trump doesn't want to fill the traditional role, or is she creating a whole new role of first daughter?

MCBRIDE: Well, it is a good question. And, actually, you know, throughout our history, we have had nieces and sisters and daughters help to fulfill a role of - whether it's social hostess or accompanying the president on visits and trips. It's not uncharacteristic.

But we haven't seen, you know, an adult daughter living so close to the White House or being visible with the president of the United States on certain events, such as when they went to Dover together to honor the returning remains of one of our brave soldiers. So I think that - knowing that that is one of the most difficult things that a president could do, I thought it was very important...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Significant.

MCBRIDE: ...That a family member, at least, was there if it wasn't the first lady. So it is still - we are just three weeks into this. So it's hard to develop a pattern yet of what Mrs. Trump might do, basically, what Ivanka Trump might do. So we'll just have to wait and see. But, certainly, in our past, family members have stepped up to the plate if and when needed.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Anita McBride is a former chief of staff to the first lady Laura Bush. She's now executive in residence at the American University School of Public Affairs. Thank you.

MCBRIDE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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