When the Bidens arrived at the White House on Inauguration Day, with family members in tow, an odd thing happened. The front doors didn’t immediately open for them. It is being reported that it took ten long seconds for the large wooden doors to open for them.
The official White House protocol is for Marine guards to open the White House doors but on a day such as this one when the new president is welcomed into the White House, the chief usher opens the doors. The problem with that, though, is that just five hours before the Biden family’s arrival, the chief usher was fired. There was not a new White House chief usher in place.
With the world watching on, the 46th US President and his wife walked up the steps of their new home for the first time on Wednesday, as a small crowd of family members followed behind.
The couple posed for photos outside the large wooden doors of the North Portico, waiving to the crowd as a military band played ‘Hail to the Chief’ nearby.
They then embraced one another, before turning to venture on inside. But there was a problem: the doors didn’t open.
For an awkward but fleeting period of around 10 seconds, Biden stares puzzlingly at the door before turning back to shoot a confused look at his approaching family members.
Eventually the doors swing open, though it’s unclear whether Jill and Joe were forced to open them themselves, or whether someone on the inside finally notice the mistake.
The video doesn’t present a clear picture of how the doors open, but it does show Biden approach the doors and then turn back toward his family. He then turns back around and the doors open. Frankly, if Joe Biden was looking puzzled, it wouldn’t be much different than any time in any day. He frequently looks confused, bordering on dazed. The story of why the chief usher was fired at such a key time is a hazy one. Did the Trump administration fire the chief usher, Timothy Harleth, or did Jill Biden? It is being reported both ways.
We know that presidents don’t open their own doors, especially those at the entrance to the White House. Washingtonians noticed the breach of protocol which left the Bidens outside cooling their heels before the doors opened.
“There was a protocol breach when the front doors were not held open for the first family as they arrived at the North Portico,” said Lea Berman, who served as a White House social secretary for President George W. Bush.
“The delay in opening the door did puzzle me a bit,” said Betty Monkman, who was a White House curator for 30 years and helped supervise changeovers between previous administrations.
To be clear, the chief usher at the White House doesn’t just stand around and open doors. Harleth was responsible for overseeing budgets, planning the family’s dinner menus, and handling any personal issues. His salary was estimated to be around $200,000. His days were long, as President Trump was both an early riser and a night owl.
It turns out that Timothy Harleth was unaware that he was being let go until 11:30 a.m. that morning. He was moving furniture on Inauguration Day when he was told that his services were no longer needed. Typically, White House staff stay on when a new inauguration comes in. Many staffers end up working for several administrations, depending on their length of service in the White House. There had only been nine chief ushers in the history of the White House before Harleth was hired. It is seen as a non-political job.
CNN reports that Biden’s counsel called the White House counsel Wednesday. The Bidens planned to bring their own person with them. Mr. Harleth was hired by the Trumps several months after they moved into the White House. He had professional experience in the hospitality industry, working for the Trump Organization. When Melania Trump hired Harleth, some critics groused that the move looked political in nature. The previous chief usher was Angella Reid, who was hired during the Obama administration. Reid took the job in 2011 and was the first woman to serve in the position. She was previously the general manager at the Ritz Carlton in Pentagon City. She was described as an Obama loyalist. CNN claims to have two sources who confirm that Jill Biden called for Harleth to be fired.
The chief usher and residence staff are not political positions, and it’s highly unusual for someone to leave at the beginning of a new administration.
Stephen Rochon, who was the chief usher from 2007 to 2011, said the Trump transition team asked him to come back “to run the house,” but he declined due to family reasons.
“It really doesn’t matter who is president, or what party is in office,” Rochon said. “The permanent staff averages 25 years — one staffer was there for 50 years.”
If it is true that Jill Biden let Harleth go, it breaks with tradition. This is another example of both Joe and Jill saying one thing and doing another. Joe Biden ran on a return to tradition and civility. So far, Jill Biden hasn’t commented on the personnel change or announced a replacement. There are a number of deputy ushers in place until she does so.
The Daily Mail reports it may have been the Trump administration who fired Harleth.
After Election Day, Harleth found himself in the increasingly difficult position of attempting to prepare the White House for a new tenant while the current occupant was still refusing to concede the race.
Former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows reportedly became angered at Harleth for attempting to send briefing books about the residence to the Biden transition team after he was confirmed to be the winner.
Whoever it turns out to be responsible for letting Harleth go, it looks like a petty decision. If it was Jill Biden, it looks like she wants to eliminate a Trump hire and if it was Mark Meadows, it looks like he was retaliating for Harleth just doing his job during the transition. It’s not a good look for anyone.