It's No Piece of Cake

(Associated Press)

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By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 18, 2007

For Tricia Nixon's 1971 wedding, the Vietnam War protesters camped outside the White House agreed to take their bullhorns down the street -- just until the ceremony was over.

In 1906, Alice Roosevelt's ceremony in the East Room after a Grand Hallway entrance was literally swoon-worthy -- several guests reportedly passed out from excitement.

When Maria Monroe (the first White House daughter to marry during her father's presidential term) decided to exclude foreign dignitaries from her 1820 guest list, it caused such a backlash that some speculate it informed the creation of the Monroe Doctrine.

Jenna Bush has a hard act to follow.

A White House wedding is the perfect nexus of celebrity-spotting, couture gowns and young love -- with just enough wonk thrown in to explain even dour politicos' obsession with the nuptials. This newspaper covered Alice Roosevelt's Feb. 17 wedding by eschewing all other front-page news stories in favor of a blown-up picture of the bride, calling her the "daughter of all American people" and her wedding "a blessed union of the hearts and hands such is possible nowhere more than in the United States."

Los Angeles may have the Oscars and New York the Tony Awards, but Jenna Bush in Zac Posen, floating through the East Wing on the arm of her teary-eyed president-dad? Washington could own that show.

Or, at least it could if Jenna decides to marry Henry Hager in the White House -- which would be the 10th such wedding in Executive Mansion history. (Some presidents' children have elected to exchange vows at alternative locations: Newly converted Catholic Luci Baines Johnson, for example, was married at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.) Tony Rodham, Hillary Clinton's brother, married Nicole Boxer in the Rose Garden in 1994. But the last child of a president to wed at the White House was Tricia Nixon more than 35 years ago.

When Lucy Winchester Breathhit, Pat Nixon's former social secretary, is asked to remember the planning of that event, Breathhit -- who now lives in Kentucky -- begins by offering a message to the entire Washington area: " Congratulations! Congratulations on getting a wedding!"

Aside from our fascination with the personal lives of presidential kids -- Chelsea Clinton's endearingly awkward years, the Bush twins' blossoming from party gals to do-gooders -- weddings have been known to offer new insights on presidents: When the minister at Lynda Bird Johnson's marriage to Charles S. Robb asked, "Who giveth this woman to be married to this man?," President Johnson responded not with the traditional "I do" but with the more feminist "Her mother and I." Lynda Robb told People magazine in 1994, "I had never realized he was that progressive."

"If Jenna got married in the White House, it would be a tremendous boost to [President Bush's] popularity," says Doug Wead, former special assistant to the first President Bush and author of "All the Presidents' Children." "Nixon received a lot of goodwill because of Tricia's wedding. I've said before that President Bush's best chance to come out of his term well is if they capture Osama bin Laden and one of the twins gets married."

Of course, there are less cynical reasons a couple might choose a White House wedding. The place already has a no-fly zone, protecting the betrothed from the chopperazzi attacks that plague other celebrity couples. And the Secret Service probably has a code-named protocol for handling drunken uncles who try to start up the chicken dance.

Still, those who have been tasked with planning the marriage of a president's child know how quickly the blessed event can become a quagmire wrapped in fluffy pink tulle.


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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