Before taking her seat Tuesday night at the U.S. Capitol to hear her husband give his first State of the Union address, Melania Trump had not been seen publicly for much of January.
She has, nevertheless, been a subject of discussion: Why didn’t she accompany the president overseas last week? Why was there no public acknowledgment of their recent wedding anniversary? Is she happy?
Those questions lingered as the first lady applauded through her husband’s speech. Following tradition, her box included guests who exemplified policies that President Trump wished to highlight — a police officer who adopted the baby of opioid addicts, several military veterans, a small-business owner excited about Trump’s tax cuts.
She smiled, waved and shook hands with those around her. She wore a radiant white pantsuit, in contrast — intentional or not — with the black worn by Democratic women in a tribute to the #MeToo movement.
Still, the first lady’s supporting role at the State of the Union also served to highlight her recent absence from the spotlight, which coincided this month with news reports of her husband’s alleged affair with adult film star Stormy Daniels.
The president has denied the relationship, but in the weeks since reports surfaced, the first lady pulled out of a plan to accompany her husband on his trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, telling reporters that there were scheduling and logistical issues.
While the president was abroad, the first lady made an unannounced stop at the U.S. Holocaust Museum to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day. She toured the museum without a media pool and issued a statement afterward. She then decamped to Mar-a-Lago, where the Palm Beach Post reported Thursday that her plane had landed, but apparently returned to Washington the next day.
Those movements fueled chatter, both about her marriage and her desire to fulfill the traditional duties of first lady — hostessing, representing the American people abroad, advocating for worthwhile causes. But the first lady’s communications director, Stephanie Grisham, pushed back on those conversations.
“BREAKING: The laundry list of salacious & flat-out false reporting about Mrs. Trump by tabloid publications & TV shows has seeped into ‘main stream media’ reporting,” Grisham wrote on Twitter. “She is focused on her family & role as FLOTUS — not the unrealistic scenarios being peddled daily by the fake news.”
Melania Trump, who is said to cherish her privacy, cautioned from the beginning that she would take her time adjusting to her role in public life. In the past year, she has hired 13 people onto her staff in the first lady’s office but has not yet launched any formal initiatives.
Despite her empty January events calendar, Trump indicated on social media that she has been busy, and one of her recent hires filled the key position of policy director — a sign, possibly, that she will be ramping up her activities. “It was a productive week with meetings, meetings & more meetings! Lots of work to be done in 2018 — looking forward to the year ahead as FLOTUS!” she wrote on Twitter.
She also marked the anniversary of her husband’s inauguration by sharing on Twitter and Instagram a photo of herself at last year’s ceremony on the arm of a military escort.
“This has been a year filled with many wonderful moments. I’ve enjoyed the people I’ve been lucky enough to meet throughout our great country & the world!” she wrote.
The posting ended up only heightening the recent curiosity about her. Pundits openly wondered whether the first lady purposely failed to mention the president and why she did not choose to post a photo of herself with him.
Her staff has dismissed such conversations as idle chatter. Late last year, when asked how the first lady deals with criticism, Grisham said: “Mrs. Trump does not concern herself with what others think. She stays true to herself and does what she feels is right. She is focused on her role as first lady, and all that she wants to accomplish on behalf of children.”
While the dynamic between Donald and Melania Trump has appeared strained at moments — when cameras caught an apparent attempt by the first lady to swat away an attempt by her husband to hold her hand, for instance — friends and associates maintain their relationship is strong.
“I will put my hand in fire and say that they are super, super happy,” Paolo Zampolli, the Manhattan businessman who introduced the Trumps to each other, said last spring.
Donald Trump bragged on Air Force One last year that his wife was “Jackie O on steroids.”
Following the release of Michael Wolff’s gossip-filled “Fire and Fury” book — which reported that Melania Trump wept bitterly on the night her husband was elected president — the first lady had Grisham release a statement saying that “Mrs. Trump supported her husband’s decision to run for president and, in fact, encouraged him to do so. She was confident he would win and was very happy when he did.”
Hours before she took her seat Tuesday in the Capitol the first lady posted on social media to promote her husband’s speech in a show of support. Almost instantly, comments flowed in dissecting it.