Melania Trump's Absence Renews Questions About Her Role

Melania Trump's Absence Renews Questions About Her Role
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President Trump and his wife, Melania, have not been seen together in public since the inauguration nearly two weeks ago – indeed, there are doubts the two have been together in private since then -- reviving speculation about the first lady’s role.

There were no public sightings of Melania Trump at the White House last weekend – although a pool report noted an Ivanka Trump appearance then in the West Wing. White House staff didn’t respond to repeated inquiries from RealClearPolitics as to when the couple were last together.

President Trump is scheduled to leave Friday for his Mar-a-Lago estate and resort in Florida for Super Bowl weekend. It’s unclear if his wife will join him.

US Weekly reported Wednesday that she may stay in New York permanently and not move to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Melania originally said she would stay there through the school year for the sake of the couple’s 10-year-old son, Barron, and then move to the nation’s capital.

"They will reevaluate toward the end of the school year if they will keep this arrangement or if Melania and Barron will move to Washington," the source told US Weekly. "They could go either way right now. They will ultimately do what's best for Barron."

Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a senior adviser to the first lady, said, "Mrs. Trump will be moving to D.C. and settling in to the White House at the end of the schoolyear, splitting her time between New York and D.C. in the meantime. Mrs. Trump is honored to serve this country and is taking the role and responsibilities of first lady very seriously. It has only been a short time since the inauguration, and the first lady is going to go about her role in a pragmatic and thoughtful way that is unique and authentic to her."

Wolkoff, a New York party planner who worked on the inauguration as well as the annual Metropolitan Museum of Art gala, will join the first lady in D.C.

The US Weekly article demonstrated what America has seen of her since Donald Trump took the oath of office: nothing.

She has not released a public schedule of events, an agenda, or given any interviews. And though picture-perfect on Inauguration Day in her baby blue Ralph Lauren dress, the first lady appears reluctant to embrace the public persona that comes with marriage to the commander-in-chief.

Official Washington has been scratching its head over what’s going on in the East Wing.

Her first staff announcement came late Wednesday evening, 12 days after inauguration, when she named Lindsay Reynolds as her chief of staff. Reynolds is the daughter-in-law of Mercer Reynolds, who worked as the finance chair for George W. Bush. She was associate director of the White House Visitors Office under Bush. 

Melania addressed her lack of staff in a statement. 

“I am putting together a professional and highly-experienced team which will take time to do properly. I am excited to be organizing and bringing together such a dynamic and forward thinking group of individuals who will work together to make our country better for everyone.”

Reynolds said she was already on the job. “I am working to ensure that the White House Visitors Office is fully staffed and operational and ready to accept tour requests for the public in the coming weeks after a traditional temporary closure during the transition period. In the meantime, we are using this time to tend to routine maintenance, updates and renovations along the tour route to ensure the guest experience is top notch,” she said in a statement.

Melania has not announced other senior positions, including communications director or White House social secretary. The East Wing is usually staffed by 20 to 30 people. 

The first post-inaugural opportunity for a president/first lady moment ended up being filled by Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter from his first marriage. On Wednesday, Trump went to Dover Air Force Base for the arrival of remains of a U.S. commando killed early Sunday in Yemen. And, walking beside him from the White House to Marine One, dressed somberly in a black and blue overcoat, hair pulled back, was his daughter.

While the role of the first lady is seen as largely ceremonial, it can have political effects. The first spouse can be a political asset – or lightening rod – to her husband’s agenda.

Melania’s lack of action is a stark change from how past first ladies operated.

Michelle Obama made her first official White House appearance on Jan. 29, 2009, at a reception for fair-pay activist Lilly Ledbetter. And she spent February of that year touring the Departments of Education, Interior, and Agriculture to thank employees for their work. She had lunch in late January with then-D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, which observers took to show the administration’s support for him.

The notable absence of the first lady is compounded by the lack of East Wing staff. Of most concern is that the all-important social secretary role remains unfilled.  And there are events coming up on the White House calendar that require a party planner’s coordination along with a diplomat’s touch.

February typically brings the Governors’ Ball, when the nation’s governors come to the White House for a formal gala. This was Michelle Obama’s first appearance in a formal gown after the inauguration.

The president, meanwhile, has kept up a busy schedule for his first two weeks in office, including this past weekend. Late Friday, he signed his controversial immigration order. On Saturday he called several foreign leaders, among them Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Francois Hollande and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

On Sunday he made more calls, and hosted a movie screening.

In an interview last week with ABC News, Trump was asked if he was lonely in the White House without his wife and son.

“No, because I end up working longer,” he said. “And that’s okay. I mean I’m working long hours. I mean the country has a lot of problems. It has a lot of problems. And yes, Barron’s getting out of school in another three months. And to take him out now is very unfair. He’s very young. Very — very, very young.”

Emily Goodin is the managing editor of RealClearPolitics.

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