It was subtle, but the timing nonetheless pointed. And purposeful.
Michelle Obama used Wednesday’s unveiling of plans for the Obama Presidential Center in Chicago as an occasion to plug girls education just after reports circulated that President Trump‘s administration planned to shut down the former first lady’s Let Girls Learn initiative.
“Barack and I will continue to champion the issues close to our hearts, including girls ed,” Obama said in one of only 12 tweets she has written since leaving the White House on Jan. 20.
The former first lady, like her husband former president Barack Obama, has been careful not to openly criticize Trump, as is the customary protocol in the small club of former White House occupants. But her former chief of staff in the White House, Tina Tchen, acknowledges that this week’s headlines about Let Girls Learn being the latest Obama program under Trump’s ax pained—and surprised—the old East Wing team.
“We didn’t know anything about it. We had no conversations with anyone in the Trump administration about Let Girls Learn,” Tchen tells PEOPLE. “Adolescent girls’ education is not really partisan.”
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The government-wide initiative begun by Obama in March 2015 worked on ensuring education for the 98 million adolescent girls worldwide who are out of school. On Monday, CNN reported an internal government memo informing Peace Corps employees that “we will not continue to use the ‘Let Girls Learn’ brand or maintain a stand-alone program.” Late Monday night, the State Department tweeted that “there have been no changes to the #LetGirlsLearn program.”
“We are committed to empowering women and girls around the world,” the State Department spokesman said on Twitter.
“If they are not going to change it and it’s going to continue to be a branded initiative as a priority of the U.S. government, we’d be delighted,” Tchen tells PEOPLE.
“And if they don’t continue it, we’re disappointed. These girls need every bit of help that we can get them. … They have huge obstacles to overcome.”
The Trump administration’s mixed signals on the future of Let Girls Learn came after several other signature programs of the former president and first lady were nixed. Trump continues to seek the repeal of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare). In March, Trump signed a sweeping executive order undoing the most important Obama-era environmental measures; and earlier this week Trump’s Agriculture department rolled back school lunch standards that were a centerpiece of Mrs. Obama’s healthy-eating program.
Tchen said that the former first lady, well before Trump’s actions, was laying plans to remain active on the issues near and dear to her. “She’s already been thinking what next could she do as a private citizen.”
On Wednesday, her husband made clear that he is thinking the same.
“We’re rolling up our sleeves again,” the former president wrote on Twitter.