Obamas return to the White House to revive tradition of unveiling presidential portrait


Former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama returned to the White House on Wednesday as President Biden revived the decades-long tradition of unveiling presidential portraits.

Mrs. Obama said traditions like the portrait ceremony are important.
“Traditions like this matter, not just for those of us who hold these positions but for everyone participating in and watching our democracy,” she said.
The ceremony returned to the White House after a 10-year hiatus. Former President Trump broke the tradition, snubbing the Obamas by not hosting the unveiling of their portraits. Mr. Biden never explained why he hasn’t invited back Mr. Trump, whom he has criticized bitterly, to be so honored.  

Mr. Obama was the last president to hold such a ceremony when we welcomed back former President George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush for the unveiling of their official portraits in 2012.

It also marked the second time Mr. Obama has returned to the White House since leaving office in January 2017. He appeared with Mr. Biden at an event in April to celebrate the Affordable Care Act.
Mr. Biden opened his remarks by telling the Obamas, “welcome home.”

“With Barack as our president, we got up every day and went to work full of hope for real, full of purpose and excited about the possibility before us,” he said.
“There are few people I’ve ever known with more integrity, decency, and moral courage than Barack Obama,” Mr. Biden said, adding that “nothing could have prepared me better or more to become president” than to “be at your side for eight years.”
Mr. Obama thanked former staffers who attended the unveiling, praising them as “talented, selfless, idealistic, good people working tirelessly every day to make the world better.”
He also gave credit to the artists who painted him and Mrs. Obama, Robert McCurdy and Sharon Sprung, respectively.
“I want to thank Sharon Sprung for capturing everything I love about Michelle, her grace, her intelligence, and the fact that she’s fine,” Mr. Obama said. “Just saying. Her portrait is stunning.”
Despite the fun atmosphere, Wednesday’s event recast the spotlight on reports of tensions between Mr. Biden and his former boss.
A new book to be published later this month revealed that the relationship between the two men was so fraught that Mr. Obama considered dropping Mr. Biden as his vice president from the ticket in 2012 and replacing him with Hillary Clinton.
The book, Long Alliance, also alleges that early in his administration, Mr. Obama thought Mr. Biden was “condescending” and rambled so much that he once told an aide, “Shoot. Me. Now.”
In 2020, Mr. Obama reluctantly endorsed Mr. Biden’s run for the presidency only after he became the nominee, creating some awkward tension.

The unveiling of presidential portraits began in 1978 when President Carter hosted former President Ford and former first lady Betty Ford. That sparked a tradition of the current president hosting their most recent predecessor at the White House for the unveiling. The events are bipartisan and full of good humor and playful banter.


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