Barack and Michelle Obama’s presidential and first lady portraits will not be unveiled and hung in the White House until Donald Trump is out of office.
The long-held tradition of current presidents attending the unveiling ceremony of the portraits of their predecessors and their wives during their first term will be skipped during this presidency due to the bitter feud between Trump and Obama, people familiar with the matter told NBC News.
If Trump wins a second term in November, Obama may have to wait until 2025 to have his portrait revealed and displayed in the White House among every U.S. president before him.
Obama, people familiar with the matter said, has no interest in participating in the post-presidency tradition as long as Trump is in office – and Trump has no qualms with snubbing a presidential custom.
The tradition of previous presidents returning to the White House to meet with their successor to unveil their portraits seems to span back to the 1970s, and has provided some rare moments of praise and bipartisanship even for those who have issued harsh criticism of each other or ousted the other from office in sour races.
Jimmy Carter welcomed Gerald Ford and his wife Betty back to the White House just four years after Carter had defeated Ford in his reelection bid for the first formal East Room ceremony in 1980.
And after George H. W. Bush lost reelection, Bill Clinton still hosted Bush in the East Room, saying ‘Welcome home.’
‘We may have our differences politically, but the presidency transcends those differences,’ Obama said when he hosted former President George W. Bush for his portrait unveiling in 2012.
The break from tradition comes as Trump and Obama have recently upped their public attacks toward one another.
Most recently, Trump began making accusations that Obama and former Vice President and presumed Democratic nominee Joe Biden committed a crime in relation to the investigation and prosecution of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.
Trump has dubbed the unfounded claims as ‘Obamagate,’ claiming the crime was worse than the Nixon-era Watergate scandal.
Obama also issued harsh words toward Trump during a televised commencement address for the high school class of 2020 last week, when he called Trump a ‘little kid’ without mentioning his name.
Also during a call earlier this month, the former president criticized Trump for his response to the coronavirus pandemic.
While Obama and Michelle already have separate portraits hung in the National Portrait Gallery, which were revealed in February 2018, the official White House portraits are part of a different tradition.
The process for White House portraits takes a few years to complete.
After the first couple decides on an artist, the White House Historical Association, a privately funded entity, negotiates a contract.
The Obamas selected an artist and a contract was finalized in early 2017, according to people familiar with the situation – but the process stalled at that point.
Usually the former president and first lady would schedule sittings for the portraits to be painted and they would subsequently be delivered to the White House curator who would schedule the unveiling.
At the past unveiling ceremonies, the former president, first lady, staff and close friends and family are able to mingle with the current White House occupant and his administration and family.
The only other times when unveiling ceremonies appear to have been derailed were in 1971, when Jacqueline Kennedy agreed to go to a private viewing of her and John F. Kennedy’s portraits with President Richard Nixon and first lady Pat.
Media were not informed that Jackie and her children had been back to the White House until after they had left.