Children gasped and tugged at their parents’ jackets on the South Lawn of the White House on Monday, urging them toward one of the biggest celebrities at the 140th Easter Egg Roll.
Forget the Easter Bunny and the president — the Cat in the Hat had arrived.
“They were completely star-struck,” Leesburg, Va., resident Aubrey Heki said of her daughters, ages 3 and 5. “The Cat in the Hat is a pretty big deal.”
There were no boldfaced names, as in years past when the likes of talk-show host Kelly Ripa and musical group Fifth Harmony came to warm up the crowd. This year, her second hosting the event, first lady Melania Trump again opted for kid-friendly costumed characters and military bands.
And that seemed to go over well with the children.
They fawned over a volunteer dressed as Dr. Seuss’s famous feline and a friendly-faced yeti named Eddie. They raced across the grounds toward coloring stations and concert stages and rolled themselves down sloping hills, messing up carefully coordinated Easter outfits.
“Look, Dad, I’m an egg!” exclaimed a small boy, bouncing up from the grass. “Get it? Because I’m rolling.”
The White House said they were expecting nearly 30,000 people to attend Monday’s event, many of whom won tickets in a lottery that was held in February.
President Trump strode out onto the White House balcony to the tune of “Hail to the Chief,” flanked by his wife and a bespectacled Easter Bunny, who waved to the crowd as Trump praised the weather (“perfect”), the first lady (“incredible”) and the trajectory of the U.S. economy (“bigger and better and stronger”).
As he knelt in the center of a field of small children waiting to try their hand at egg rolling, Trump blamed Democrats, saying they killed a deal meant to protect “dreamers,” undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children.
“The Democrats have really let them down. They’ve really let them down. They had this great opportunity,” Trump said in response to a reporter’s question. “The Democrats have really let them down. It’s a shame, and now people are taking advantage of DACA. That’s a shame. It should have never happened.”
Several attendees said they generally disagreed with the president on a range of issues, including his refusal to make a deal to legalize recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) and recent steps toward a potential trade war with China. But they had vowed to put politics aside for the day.
“Today isn’t about the Trumps; it’s about the children,” said Annemarie Carfora of Somerville, N.J., who stood at a picnic table while her 5-year-old granddaughter, Hope, colored a card for military members serving overseas.
“I have friends who feel all kinds of ways about the president, and I’ve been sending them all pictures today,” Carfora said. “So, it’s kind of funny, I’m getting responses that say, ‘Wonderful!’ And others that say, ‘Yuck!’ ”
Hope, who wore two white rabbit ears tucked into her red hair, said she hadn’t noticed the president — although she did pose for a photo with the Easter Bunny and wave to the first lady.
“I don’t consider myself a huge Trump fan, but it’s still pretty amazing to be here,” said Heki, the mother of two from Leesburg. “We saw Melania do her book reading, and I was so giddy with excitement, I think I almost cried.”
Several of the president’s children and grandchildren attended the event, including 12-year-old son Barron; daughter Tiffany; son Eric, his wife, Lara, and their baby; and Donald Jr., his wife, Vanessa, and their five children.
White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway and press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders were among several administration officials roaming the grounds and posing for photos with children and grandchildren in tow.
Conway and Sanders were among the staff members assigned a time to read a children’s book to the assembled crowd in a clearing designated as the reading nook.
Down the lawn, children posed for photos behind a tiny lectern in a miniature briefing room, decorated cookies, tasted eggs, wrote letters to troops serving overseas and hurled giant green balls toward oversized pins as part of the day’s newest activity: lawn bowling.
Lawn bowling was added to the roster of activities Monday thanks to the first lady, who, according to a White House statement, wanted to leave her mark on the 140-year tradition.
President Abraham Lincoln held informal egg-rolling parties at the White House while he was in office in the 1860s, according to the White House. In the 1870s, the Capitol was the site of Easter egg-rolling. But the practice became so raucous and destructive that President Ulysses S. Grant signed a law in 1876 banning future egg-rolling to preserve the Capitol grounds.
The event was revived in 1878 when “a group of bold children” approached the White House gate seeking permission to play egg-rolling games during President Rutherford B. Hayes’s tenure, according to the White House. Permission was granted, and so the egg-rolling has continued every year since.