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Monday, January 19, 2009

Moving the Presidents

White House move - Source: Former White House Chief Usher Gary Walters
The move is performed by most of residence staff, which numbers 93.
It takes place from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the south side of the White House.
At least two or three trucks will take part.
Tents, chemicals on hand in case of ice, snow or rain.

It's a side of Inauguration Day that most people never see: a grueling, precisely timed workday involving scores of staffers that follows six months of careful planning.

Gary Walters worked at the executive mansion from 1986 until 2006 as chief usher in charge of moving presidential families in and out of the White House. From his Virginia home, Walters described how the complicated move is completed in only six hours.

At 11 a.m., after the Bushes and Obamas depart the executive mansion for the Capitol Hill swearing-in ceremony, empty moving trucks will roll up to the south side of the White House, Walters said.

The drivers put down their tailgates, allowing most of the White House's 93 staff members to begin loading the Bushes' belongings into trucks and unloading Obama family items from other trucks, he said.

"Staff members all have been given very specific jobs on that day, almost down to the minute as to what their responsibilities are," Walters said.

The move is designed to be seamless, painless and invisible while millions of Washington visitors -- and millions more watching on TV -- follow the inauguration ceremonies and the parade that follows.

By about 5 p.m., before the Obamas move from the parade viewing stand to their new home, the presidential move must be complete.

"Their clothes will be in their closets; everything will be put away," Walters said. "There should be no full or half-empty boxes will in view. Furniture will be set in proper places. Their favorite foods will be in the kitchen or the pantry. The chief usher will welcome them into their home and ask them what they would like to do before going out to enjoy the inaugural balls."

Incoming first lady Michelle Obama's mother, Marian Robinson, will also be moving into the White House residence, which has 24 rooms on the second and third floors. The Obamas have hired California decorator Michael Smith to use an allocated $100,000 to redecorate the space. Watch what decorator may do with the White House »

"I think they're going to find that this is really conducive to family life," President Bush told CNN's Larry King. "President-elect Obama has got a 45-second commute to see his girls."

In the West Wing of the White House, the political jostling has begun among new staffers to grab workspaces near the center of power: the Oval Office.

There, the carpet is changed with each new administration to suit the incoming president, Walters said. Possibly, the office desk will be changed, as will paintings that will be hung on the wall.

Books on the Oval Office shelves will be changed per the new commander in chief, as will accessories to be placed around the room, Walters said. Staffers may tote in a new sofa and chairs -- or busts of past presidents.

Following tradition, Bush is expected to leave a personal letter written to Obama. Past letters have offered the new president private words of advice and reflection.

Several Democratic presidents have chosen to hang a Thomas Sully painting of President Andrew Jackson in the Oval Office, said political scientist and historian Martha Joynt Kumar, an expert on the White House. "In the residence, many presidents have brought their personal paintings to decorate their living space."

After movers tote out boxes of office materials from Bush staffers, the West Wing will become a dusty workspace, with empty bookshelves and the odd three-ring binder left behind, say veterans of the White House press corps.

As in previous moving periods, contractors may come to slap on a coat of paint or lay carpet as the new crop of staffers finds their workspaces.

"It was incredible," former Clinton staffer David Seldin said, recalling his experience on Inauguration Day 1993. "I think people were overwhelmed with the sense that it was real and the sense that something that you had been working on as a political campaign is actually becoming part of the government."

On Tuesday, once the whirlwind moving operation is finally done, Chief Usher Stephen Rochon will probably greet Obama the same way Walters did Bush in 2001.

Standing near the doorway to the White House North Portico, Walters recalls, he said, "Hello, Mr. President, welcome to your home."

From CNN

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