Surprising Rules The First Family Must Follow In The White House
Being the president and part of the First Family definitely has its perks, but it also comes with lots of traditions and rules. Just because you’re the leader of the free world, it doesn’t mean that you can do whatever you want.
While not all of the rules are set in stone, it is generally expected for them to be upheld and if you don’t, then it’s going to start turning heads. Read on to find out the surprising rules and traditions that the First Family is expected to observe during their time in the White House.
1. Don’t Open the Windows!
While there are a lot of perks to living in America’s most famous and historical house, there are also a lot of restrictions. For one, no one is allowed to open windows in the White House.
According to Michelle Obama, opening the windows and letting in some fresh air is one thing she really missed during her time in the White House. She jokingly said to Ellen DeGeneres that she would spend her first year out of the White House “just hanging out the window.”
2. A Presidential Funeral
One of the first things a president must do when taking office is plan for their funeral. “It may sound shocking, but during the first week of moving into the White House, the president is asked to plan his or her funeral should anything occur during their presidency,” George W. Bush’s deputy assistant said.
A presidential funeral is a huge ordeal full of choreographed ceremonies and generally lasts for around five days. A total of eight US presidents have died while in office. Four of them were assassinated. Being the leader of the free world is no easy task and makes you a target for many.
It might surprise you to hear that the first family is forced to foot the bill for moving into the White House. They move in with a moving company of their choice, but the movers are not allowed into the White House itself.
Only the residence staff are allowed inside the White House, so once the moving truck gets to a certain point, it’s their responsibility to move all the stuff inside. The same goes for moving out of the White House.
4. Imported Wine
You can find pretty much anything you want on the White House food menus, but there is one item that will never be served in the White House. That’s imported wines. The cooks go to great lengths to make sure that the food and beverages served are from the US.
The Ford Administration took imported wine off the White House menus and it has remained tradition ever since to only stock wines made in the USA. Most of the wines come from Virginia, Idaho and, of course, California.
One perk that the president and First Family lose when taking office is the pleasure of driving. None of them are allowed to drive on public roads, for safety reasons of course. The very last president that was allowed to drive on a public road was Lyndon B. Johnson.
That being said, the president and first family can still drive on private roads. George W. Bush took pleasure in driving his truck around his private ranch in Crawford, Texas and Ronald Reagan would drive his jeep around his Santa Barbara property.
6. Interior Design
The White House doesn’t have an interior designer on its staff, so it becomes the first lady’s job to hire the interior designer that the first family wants. The hiring occurs fairly quickly after the family moves into the White House.
The designer is responsible for redesigning and organizing the White House, apart from the historical rooms that aren’t to be touched. There is a curator on staff to make sure that the historical artifacts are taken care of.
7. The Football
Wherever the president is traveling, you can be sure that something called “The Football” isn’t too far behind. The Football is the nickname of the briefcase that follows the president around. Its contents are largely unknown to the public but whatever is in it must be important.
It’s assumed that the nuclear codes are held within the briefcase, so in case of an attack, the president would have ready access to such codes if need be. The briefcase reportedly weighs around 45 pounds, so who knows what else is in there?
8. Easter Egg Roll
The White House Easter Egg Roll is a time-honored tradition where children roll Easter eggs with a spoon in a race across the White House lawn. It dates back to 1878, though some claim that the tradition began with President Lincoln.
The Easter egg roll is held yearly on Easter Sunday. The only times that it has been called off was during wartime and major construction to the White House. It is customary to receive a wooden Easter egg after leaving the event, a tradition started by First Lady Nancy Reagan.
9. Decoration Rules
If you think that the first family has full reign over the White House, you would be wrong. The White House is more like a museum than an actual house and there are some rooms they’re not allowed to change.
Those rooms include the Oval Office and the Lincoln Bedroom. Some decoration changes have to be approved by the historical committee that oversees the White House. But the second and third floors can be redecorated freely.
10. The Beast
Being the president of the United States doesn’t only mean you get a new house, but also a new car — and a very special car at that. It’s nicknamed things such as “The Beat,” “Cadillac One” and “First Car,” even though it’s not quite a car.
This car is actually more like a tank. Not only is it equipped with the essential bulletproof glass but it’s also reinforced with enough armor to withstand a bomb. Thanks to its sealing capacity and internal oxygen system it can also withstand a chemical attack.
11. Christmas Tree Themes
Jackie Kennedy started the tradition of Christmas tree themes all the way back in 1961 and it continues through to today. Her first Christmas tree theme was based on Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker,” during her husband’s first year in office.
The tradition stuck around and every year there is a new theme that is chosen by the first lady herself. Themes have included “American Flower Tree,” “Antique Toy,” “Mother Goose,” and others. In 2017 First Lady Melania chose a theme called “Time-Honored Traditions.”
12. January 20th
Every time a new president is elected, January 20th becomes an auspicious day in the White House. The president isn’t allowed to move in until the exact day, as their predecesor is still living there until January 19.
The new First Family is only given a total of 12 hours to move into the White House, mainly for security reasons. The Obamas reportedly only took five short hours to fully move out of the White House. That might be a record!
Being the president of the United States might seem to some like a cushy job but that would be wrong. Presidents don’t just live off the tax payer’s money. They have to pay for their own food, toiletries, dry cleaning and other personal items and services.
As the saying goes, there’s no such things as a free lunch. Oh, and the White House kitchen staff have their own official Instagram page, just in case you want to check out what they’re cooking for the White House staff and the First Family.
14. Turkey Pardons
The National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation is a ceremony that dates all the way back to the 1940s, but it wasn’t until Ronald Reagan that a turkey was “pardoned” although technically he didn’t actually use that word.
The very first official pardon from a president was in 1999 when President Bill Clinton pardoned ‘Harry the Turkey.’ Even though it’s a relatively new tradition it is certainly expected that the sitting president pardons a turkey on Thanksgiving.
15. Constantly Under Surveillance
Once you become a member of the First Family, you lose certain liberties, like being able to go where you want when you want by yourself. Once you’re part of the first family, you are under constant surveillance by the secret service.
The secret service is tasked with guarding the president, their family, as well as the vice-president’s family. No matter what you’re doing or where you’re doing it, if you’re part of the first family, you are always being watched.
16. No iPhones
Another downfall of being the president is that you don’t have access to all the newest and latest technology. The reason? Like just about everything else, security. The very first president to own a smartphone was President Barack Obama.
Obama was allowed to keep a Blackberry during his presidency but it was so heavily modified by the secret service that it was hard to still call it a smartphone. “Does your three-year-old have one of those play phones? That’s basically the phone I got,” Obama said.
17. Decoration Budget
Presidents can’t just go all out on the redecorating of the White House. They are allotted a budget of $100,000 and anything over that comes directly out of their own pockets. The humble Carters reportedly did use all of the then budget of $50,000.
The Reagans turned down the offer and redecorated with their own money. Meanwhile the Clintons and Obamas spent around the same amount as the Carters. But none of those figures compares to the Kennedy’s full restoration of the famous house. Including today’s inflation, they spent $16.4 million on the project!
Not only can the president not drive on public roads, there are also certain types of vehicles that they cant ride in. One type of car you won’t see a president riding around in anymore is a convertible.
Ever since President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in the back seat of a convertible, they have been off limits for any sitting president. Read on to find out what other rules the first family and the president must follow.
19. Secure Lines
Another rule that the president always must follow is to make calls only from secure lines. No matter whether the call is personal or private, it must be done on a secure line. This is a very important rule.
All incoming and outgoing calls made by the president are made on a secure line for national security reasons. “Because the smartphones of high-level government officials — including the President — are obvious targets for foreign intelligence services, the government goes to significant effort to ensure that government-issued smartphones are constantly updated to address security vulnerabilities,” one White House expert stated.
20. Plan, Plan, Plan
When you’re the president almost every waking minute of your day is planned in advance. And just try to squeeze in something that wasn’t on the schedule! The secret service probably wont let you, not unless you inform them four hours ahead of time.
Once, President Obama reportedly tried to organize an impromptu basketball game but was stopped by the secret service because he didn’t inform them four hours ahead of time. The secret service needs time to make sure that there is zero threat to the president’s life.
21. Correspondents’ Dinner
It’s not a rule that the president must show up to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, but it is a long-held tradition that they show up for some light-hearted humor at their own expense. The event is generally attended by journalists, comedians, athletes and pop culture icons.
The White House Correspondents’ Dinner is a celebration of the First Amendment, you know, the one guaranteeing free speech so the president often gets roasted. There are also scholarships and awards given out at the event, which are funded by the admission fees.
22. Earning Extra Money
One thing that the president is forbidden from doing is earning an additional income outside of their government salary. So you’re not going to be seeing the president moonlighting anytime soon. A sitting president earns $400,000 a year.
Also, if the president owns a business they must take a hands-off approach to how it is run. Generally, they leave the business in someone else’s hands. If they have investments (which almost every president does) it must go into a blind trust during their tenure as president.
23. Social Media
Social media accounts for the first children are generally very limited. Sasha and Malia Obama were not allowed to open Twitter accounts and had very limited access to Facebook. While it might be an honor to be part of the first family, it can’t be easy not being allowed to do stuff other kids do.
“I still am not a big believer in Facebook for young people … particularly for them, because they’re in the public eye. Some of it’s stuff they don’t need to see and be a part of … So we try to protect them from too much of the public voice,” Michelle Obama said.
24. Secret Service
After the assassination of President McKinley in 1901, Congress passed a law that officially charged the secret service with protecting the president and their family. The secret service also protects the vice president’s family and the president-elect and vice president-elect in the event of an election year.
It may, however, surprise you to hear that certain family members can refuse the protection of the secret service. For example, Donald Trump Jr. gave up his right to be protected by the secret service back in September of 2017.
25. Car Windows
Apart from being chauffeured around in an armored vehicle, the first family is also never allowed to open a car window. On the rare occasion that a window is opened, its usually always on private property away from the public’s eye.
“One day as a treat, my lead agent let me have the windows open on the way to Camp David. It was like five minutes out, and he was like, ‘The window’s open. Enjoy it!’ I was like, ‘Thanks, Alan,’” Michelle Obama recalled.
26. The First Ladies
After an election, it is a tradition that the incoming and outgoing first ladies sit down to meet, usually over a cup of tea at the White House. Most recently, that occurred when outgoing first lady Michelle Obama met with Melania Trump to discuss life in the White House.
The two reportedly discussed raising children in the White House specifically. That certainly can’t be easy. Michelle Obama also gave Melania Trump a private tour of the White House before going to the Oval Office to meet their respective husbands.
27. Breaking The Law
While the president may appear to be above the law, considering they are one of the powers that actually create laws, they are not allowed to break the law. When it comes to breaking the law, they are like any other average citizen.
Should a sitting president break the law during their term in office then Congress maintains the right to deal with it accordingly. The House of Representatives can move to impeach a president while the Senate can have the president taken to court, just like any other citizen.
28. Declaring War
While the president does have a lot of power, one thing they can’t do is declare war on another country. Under the constitution, only Congress has the power to declare war. The last time war was declared on another country was during World War II.
Congress has officially declared war on other countries only 11 times. The very first declaration of war was issued against Great Britain all the way back in 1812. The United States is currently in conflicts with a number of countries but has yet to declare war on any of them.
29. The Annual Hanukkah Party
While not technically a rule, it has become tradition for the president to host an annual Hanukkah party. The tradition began in 1979 while President Jimmy Carter was in office. Carter lit the menorah on the Ellipse, a park just south of the White House.
President George W. Bush was the very first president to ever light the Hanukkah menorah in the White House itself in 2001. The tradition is continued through to this day. Read on to find out more rules and long-standing traditions that the first family is expected to uphold.
30. The Grand Piano
While the First Family is allowed to redecorate most of the rooms in the White House there are certain items that can never be moved, such as the famous grand piano. It can be played, but it cannot be moved.
There is a White House curator on staff to make sure that certain historical artifacts and art are taken care of and preserved, a task that can prove difficult especially if there are young children residing in the White House.