The Washington Post

Michelle Obama to John Boehner: ‘Whatevs’

In the streets and ballrooms of the U.S. capital, for most of Monday’s posturing, poem-reading, parading and partying, inaugural celebrants joyously welcomed the Obamas back to the White House on their own dime.

Robust private entities, corporations, Democratic Party contributors and tens of thousands of ordinary Americans wrote non-deductible checks to show their regard for the guests of honor. Republican voters worried about their tax dollars should be relieved that very little of the weekend’s Democratic National Committee victory festivities were paid for by “we the people.”

Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies members  Sen. Lamar Alexander, left, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Speaker of the House John A. Boehner, Chairman Charles E. Schumer, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. (U.S. Senate photo)

Only the pomp and circumstance part of the day required federal funds, budgeted and administrated by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, a bicameral bipartisan group that acts as co-organizers and co-hosts for the quadrennial transfer of power.  According to JCCIC’s Facebook page, since 1901, the group has been responsible for the “planning and execution of the swearing-in ceremonies and luncheon for … the President and Vice President of the United States at the U.S. Capitol.”

(Those watching the day on television might have noticed the considerable number of times the committee’s chairman, Sen. Chuck Schumer, was in camera range during those two events.)

The swearing-in half of the committee’s ceremonial responsibilities was exquisitely scheduled minute by minute (“11:46 Vice President Biden sworn in by Associate Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor; 11:50 President Obama sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts”). The other portion of the prescribed events – a sumptuous, albeit awkward, mid-day meal under the dome of the Capitol – was a comparatively loosely scripted occasion. In the spirit of reconciliation and comity, leaders of the two political parties and their guests sat down and ate lobster together, despite having been in pitched battle for the past two years.

In this moment of history, the Grand Old Party is at a political disadvantage.  Their nominee for president was defeated, and though they retained a House majority, they lost seats on both sides of the Capitol.  The true spoils of the Democratic victory will be policy gains from progressive executive orders, and, ideally, positive legislative action.  Perhaps as a symbol of gifts to come, at the post-swearing in lunch, Republican leaders presented their successful rivals with ceremonial vases.

After repeatedly dangling him from a fiscal precipice during 112th Congress, John Boehner will need to offer more than a nice lunch and some household furnishings to make peace with the returning commander in chief.  Despite a promising start in the new session, with another debt ceiling deadlock temporarily avoided, the heretofore obstructionist, highest-ranking Republican in America, will have to be pretty charming and much more legislatively accommodating to expect a reciprocating invite to a meal at the second-term president’s place of business. Couples dates with his wife and Mrs. Boehner are even less likely.

Monday’s lunch was open to the press but its politically powerful participants were not mic’ed. Reporters could try to eavesdrop, but conversations among the guests were not recorded.  (Though Schumer may one day have a microphone surgically implanted, for this event even he had to step to the podium to be heard.)

Despite the absence of sound – except Mr. Schumer thanking the caterer in the background – one of the most widely viewed moments was a candid instant, isolated by blogger Matty Rab, when Boehner, seated on Michelle Obama’s left and executing his hosting duties with what looked like exuberant bonhomie, tapped her on the shoulder.   Decidedly underwhelmed by her host’s enthusiasm, Michelle barely glanced in his direction and leaned in so her luncheon partner could talk over her to her (slightly) more receptive husband on her right.

The video shows the first lady’s new bangs framing an immediately iconic extended-lash eye roll, followed by a short but unmistakable head shake – communicating instantly in a shot seen round the world, the universal gesture for “whatever.”

Bonnie Goldstein is a Washington-based writer. Follow her on Twitter at @KickedByAnAngel.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Comments
Show Comments
Republicans debated Saturday night. The South Carolina GOP primary and the Nevada Democratic caucuses are next on Feb. 20. Get caught up on the race.
The Post's Dan Balz says...
Rarely has the division between Trump and party elites been more apparent. Trump trashed one of the most revered families in Republican politics and made a bet that standing his ground is better than backing down. Drawing boos from the audience, Trump did not flinch. But whether he will be punished or rewarded by voters was the unanswerable question.
GOP candidates react to Justice Scalia's death
Quoted
I don't know how he knows what I said on Univision because he doesn't speak Spanish.
Sen. Marco Rubio, attacking Sen. Ted Cruz in Saturday night's very heated GOP debate in South Carolina. Soon after, Cruz went on a tirade in Spanish.
The Fix asks The State's political reporter where the most important region of the state is.
The State's Andy Shain says he could talk about Charleston, which represents a little bit of everything the state has to offer from evangelicals to libertarians, and where Ted Cruz is raising more money than anywhere else. In a twist, Marco Rubio is drawing strong financial support from more socially conservative Upstate. That said, Donald Trump is bursting all the conventional wisdom in the state. So maybe the better answer to this question is, "Wherever Trump is."
Past South Carolina GOP primary winners
South Carolina polling averages
Donald Trump leads in the first state in the South to vote, where he faces rivals Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
South Carolina polling averages
The S.C. Democratic primary is Feb. 27. Clinton has a significant lead in the state, whose primary falls one week after the party's Nevada caucuses.
62% 33%
The complicated upcoming voting schedule
Feb. 20

Democrats caucus in Nevada; Republicans hold a primary in South Carolina.

Feb. 23

Republicans caucus in Nevada.

Feb. 27

Democrats hold a primary in South Carolina.

Upcoming debates
Feb 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

March 3: GOP debate

on Fox News, in Detroit, Mich.

March 6: Democratic debate

on CNN, in Flint, Mich.

Campaign 2016
Where the race stands
Most Read

national

she-the-people

Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Close video player
Now Playing

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.