“Presidential portrait unveilings are one of the three events that bring former presidents together. This level of animosity between a sitting president and his predecessors is unprecedented in modern history,” Kate Andersen Brower, author of “Team of Five: The Presidents Club in the Age of Trump,” told CNN.
“He probably wouldn’t invite me. Why should he?” Trump said, Brower writes in her book.
In 2012, ahead of Bush’s portrait unveiling, first lady Michelle Obama told aides the event and accompanying meal “needs to be perfect,” Brower reported in the book.
“It was the first time they had been back to the house they had lived in for eight years. The residence staff, at Michelle Obama’s direction, had a long table set in the elegant Red Room, on the State Floor, for the Bushes’ large extended family. Fourteen Bushes had a meal together and were served by the same butlers who had attended to them for years in the upstairs residence,” Brower wrote.
Trump’s first term will end next January, and neither Obama nor Michelle is expected to participate in a portrait unveiling before then, according to people familiar with the matter. If Trump wins reelection in November, it’s not clear the Obamas would return to the White House for a portrait ceremony during his second term either.
Both the White House and representatives for Obama declined to comment.
Trump has lashed out at his predecessor in unprecedented fashion over the past three-and-a-half years, most recently alleging he may have committed a crime (though, when pressed, Trump has been unable to voice the exact nature of the alleged criminal activity).
Obama, while not explicitly criticizing the President’s handling of the current coronavirus pandemic, took lightly veiled swipes at how the crisis has been handled during nationwide commencement addresses on Saturday.
The open enmity between the current and most recent president is all but unprecedented and does not appear poised to dissipate as Trump battles Obama’s vice president, Joe Biden, in this year’s presidential contest.
The portrait unveiling appears to be a victim of the discord. Under a process administered by the White House Historical Association, presidents and first ladies typically choose a portraitist before leaving the White House. Sittings and final approval of the paintings occur afterward.
While the Obamas were deeply involved in a separate pair of portraits that hang at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, the state of their official portraits that would hang alongside those of past presidents and first ladies in the White House isn’t clear.
On its website, the White House Historical Association says all presidents since Jimmy Carter — who asked not to have a ceremony — have returned to the White House for an unveiling.
“These ceremonies are often bipartisan events with warm greetings and collegial speeches exchanged by the president and their predecessor,” the website reads.