National Geographic : 2009 Jan
ere is no chance to get a head start, since the new President does not o cially take o ce until January 20 at noon, two hours a er his moving van pulls up under escort in the White House driveway as the outgoing President leaves for the Capitol. To make the deadline, Walters would deploy the entire 90-member staff at once, divided into teams with speci c tasks. Months of planning included repeat verbal dry runs. (No such rehearsals took place before Richard Nixon s early departure, however. Word went out that the First Lady had made a request through the usher s office for packing boxes. " at s how we knew, said Betty C. Monkman, a former White House curator.) Some transitions were especially rocky. Bill Clinton stayed in the Oval O ce until 4 a.m. on January 20, 2001. " en he had his desk that had to be cleaned out, Walters recalls. He had to wait until the President went to bed before he could swoop in and help Clinton s sta clear out the o ce to make way for George W. Bush. But once things settle down, "the White House is first and foremost a family home, Walters says. "It is the responsibility of the residence sta to change to the needs of every family, and not pigeonhole the family to the White House." To ensure such comfort, Walters would begin questioning the First-Lady-to-be after the election in November, as soon as the out- going President had invited the new one to visit. What rooms would you like to use for your bed- rooms? What time do you want to get up in the morning? What kind of toothpaste should be in the bathroom? What snacks would you prefer stocked in the pantry? Bush 43 said pretzels, which got him into trouble in 2002, when he choked on one while watching a football game in his White House bedroom, lost consciousness, hit the oor, then came to, with only the presidential dogs as wit- nesses. Bush s father requested easier to swallow Texas Blue Bell ice cream. He did not, however, request pork rinds, despite making a regular- guy show of nibbling them in public. "It was totally bogus, Walters says. "He didn t eat them. e second Bush also liked to keep a stainless steel water dish at the foot of the South Portico s curved granite staircase, and Dale Haney, the superintendent of the White House grounds, could be seen moonlighting as the walker of the presidential terriers, Barney and Miss Beazley. Chelsea Clinton had her friends over for pizza in the State Dining Room. Susan Ford hosted her junior prom in the East Room. In the Reagan Administration, known publicly for its old Hollywood glamour, the President and First Lady liked their private, just-the-two-of-them dinners served on trays in front of the television. So what's for dinner? First Ladies and Presi- dents generally haven t cooked at the White House, although they have a second-floor kitchen in the family quarters, separate from the main kitchen on the mansion s ground level. e Clintons liked to use their kitchen for post-party glasses of champagne and raided its refrigera- tor for le overs. But most families have simply selected a weekly menu from choices o ered by the White House chef. State dinners, barbe- cues for Congress, and holiday receptions for the diplomatic corps are paid for by taxpayers, but the President is billed for all food consumed by his family and his personal guests. In the rst months of a new administration, sticker shock is routine. "I can t remember anybody not complaining, Walters says, recalling in particular Rosalynn Carter s astonishment at the size of the bills. "Mrs. Carter came from Georgia. ings were a little cheaper there at the time. But let s face it, you ve got world-class chefs. e garnishes they put on foods, the way they dress them up, it s like eating in a restaurant. Food comes from various Secret Service-- approved commercial suppliers, but also from Elisabeth Bumiller is a national a airs correspondent for the New York Times. She covered the White House from 2001 to 2007. Christopher Morris has documented more than 18 foreign con icts, including the U.S. invasion of Iraq. He covered the presidency of George W. Bush for Time.