President Donald Trump won’t be unveiling Barack Obama’s official White House portrait this year, breaking with decades of tradition. According to a report from NBC News, the former president has “no interest” in the non-partisan event, which is meant to be an illustration of the peaceful transition of power that is a hallmark of the United States’ system of government. Trump, for his part, doesn’t appear to be concerned about hosting the tradition.
For the past 40 years, each president unveiled the portraits of the previous president and first lady in the East Room. But, as NBC suggests, in an illustration of the partisan political divide plaguing the country, the traditional show of unity won’t take place.
Former President Barack Obama hosted former President George W. Bush for the unveiling of the Bush portraits in 2012, despite having stark political differences from the 43rd president.
“We may have our differences politically, but the presidency transcends those differences,” Obama said at the time.
Trump has made headlines in recent weeks after repeatedly attacking his predecessor and lobbing accusations that Obama had committed a crime, though the current president hasn’t specified what he believes took place or presented any evidence for his claims.
Obama, on the other hand, has made several veiled jabs at the current administration after years of largely holding his tongue. Pundits argue that Obama has reached his “breaking point” and feels compelled to speak out.
Last week, while speaking to his former aides in a now-leaked phone call, Obama called the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic a “chaotic disaster.” A few days later, while giving a digital commencement speech, he told the graduating class that the current occupiers of the West Wing didn’t appear to care about leading the country and weren’t competent leaders.
Obama reportedly isn’t interested in attending an event at the White House while Trump occupies the Oval Office, which could mean that he won’t see his portrait hanging among the other 43 former presidents until 2025.
Former first lady Hillary Clinton called the experience of seeing her and husband Bill Clinton’s portrait unveiled by Bush “daunting.”
“It is something that really does, more than any other act, sort of put your place in history in this building for all the ages and all the people who come through here to see and reflect upon,” she said.
Presidential historian Michael Beschloss called the entire situation unprecedented.
“You’ve got a president who’s talking about putting the previous one in legal jeopardy, to put it nicely. We have not seen a situation like that in history,” he said. “It takes antipathy of a new president for a predecessor to a new level.”
Neither Obama nor Trump have responded to requests for a statement on the matter.