White House Residence Staff Remember Donald Trump's Last Hours as President and Then Meeting the Bidens
While the public gets a view of the pomp and circumstance of the inaugural ceremonies, only a handful of people in U.S. history have gotten a front-row seat to the moments after an incoming president walks into their new home at the White House.
According to current and former residence staffers who spoke with The New Yorker, the transition between a past and present president can be — like any typical move — frantic, albeit with the added pressure that one's job could hang in the balance.
Recounting the handoff between the Trump and Biden administrations to Susannah Jacob, a former Obama aide, for a recent New Yorker article, staffers said the two families were like "night and day" when it came to social distancing practices as workers spaced out in a line on Jan. 20 in anticipation of greeting new President Joe Biden and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.
Chief Usher Timothy Harleth "presented the couple with the flags that had flown over the White House during their time there, a long-standing tradition."
And then, around 8 a.m. that day, the Trumps walked to Marine One outside the White House and headed south to Florida.
Hours later, following the inauguration at the U.S. Capitol, "the Bidens came in and the first thing they did was make a loop of the State Floor and greet the staff," one White House residence worker told The New Yorker. "We were all very flattered. Usually we meet them in the first days or first weeks, but never in the first minutes."
Biden said "We're glad we're here, too," according to the magazine.
RELATED VIDEO: In First White House Interview, Joe & Jill Biden Talk Marriage, Family, Prayer — and the Challenges Ahead
Ahead of the new administration, Harleth, the chief usher, had worked with a creative manager to make the White House's residential floors "Architectural Digest-ready," one staffer told The New Yorker. That included "new stationary" and bookcases filled with "decorative plates and candles."
And then, just before Trump's term expired, Harleth was dismissed as chief usher. A Biden official previously noted to CNN that Harleth was fired before Biden took office, though Harleth suggested to The New Yorker the decision was in order to replace him with someone chosen by the new president.
"Every family deserves to have the people they want there," he told the magazine.
Harleth had been hired in 2017 and came to the White House after serving as rooms manager at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. He replaced Angella Reid, the first female chief usher, who was let go by the Trumps after serving under the Obamas.
White House household employees told The New Yorker there were clear differences between various first families.
The Obamas, for example, had never before "had a staff of housekeepers and craved privacy." The Trumps, meanwhile, treated the staff like a "twenty-four-hour concierge desk," former calligrapher Jonathan Lee said.
Speaking to the magazine, Harleth — who said he voted for Bernie Sanders — explained that many White House staffers who work behind the scenes don't view their allegiance to any particular party, but to the traditions of the role and in deference to the home itself.
Other members of the staff, Harleth said, taught him "the value and the meaning of service to the country — that's what they do every day, through their service to the Presidency."
While his dismissal surprised some of the residence staffers, according to The New Yorker, Harleth's absence on Jan. 20 was felt in one other way.
As Joe and Jill Biden entered the White House as president and first lady for the first time, they had what appeared, as journalists earlier noted, to be an awkward moment waiting for the doors to open for them.
According to The New Yorker, the moment "was a sign of a departed chief usher."
Days later, when they spoke with PEOPLE for their first White House interview, the Bidens were still settling in.
"It's surreal, but it's comfortable," the president said then. "[I] spent a lot of time here in the cabinet room and in the Oval with the President [Barack Obama], but upstairs is new. It didn't seem like that much was changing, including the inauguration, until we walked through the door with our grandkids. It was like — oh, I guess things have changed!"