Hard-boiled and commemorative eggs were in abundance at the White House’s 141st Easter Egg Roll, but some visitors left with a distinct souvenir from the president: an autograph.
The president and first lady Melania Trump signed pictures, postcards and at least one “Make America Great Again” hat as they wound their way through the crowd Monday, delivering a decidedly on-brand memento to dozens of families.
“I thought I was going to get tackled by the Secret Service, but we got it,” said Michael Andrews of New Jersey as he held out a photograph covered in the first lady’s angular signature.
At last year’s event, his niece, 8-year-old Lia Spillane, took a photo with the first lady. This year, Andrews got her to sign it.
“I think this year is better than last year,” said Lia, smiling.
The president, who began the event by extolling the economy, praising the military and saying “our country has never done better” while standing next to a giant, floppy-eared rabbit, also paused to address the news media for the first time since the redacted Mueller report was released last week.
Trump announced he had spoken to the prime minister of Sri Lanka after bombings on Easter Sunday left hundreds dead and wounded. He dismissed reports that his staff has routinely ignored his commands — “nobody disobeys my orders” — and when asked whether he was worried about possible impeachment, he said, “Not even a little bit.”
While helping children color cards for military service members, he mentioned his proposed border wall between the United States and Mexico.
“Here’s a young guy who said, ‘Keep building that wall.’ Can you believe that?” Trump said, according to media pool reports. “He’s going to be a conservative someday!”
The Gilmer family, from Leesburg, Va., came prepared with Trump-themed shirts emblazoned with the words: “Making egg-rolling great again.”
“It’s been great to see the president up close, talking to people, shaking hands,” said Tammy Gilmer, who shouted “Trump 2020” as the president walked past.
Not everyone in attendance agreed with the president’s worldview.
“We all have our opinions,” said Wendy Gareca, of Woodbridge, Va. “I didn’t vote for him, and I don’t agree with a lot of what he says. But he’s our president, and I respect him.”
The event brought thousands of families from across the country to the South Lawn, where they mingled with the Easter Bunny and senior government officials, listened to military bands perform merry tunes and competed in “Be Best”-themed games.
Much like last year, no boldfaced names headlined the event — talk-show host Kelly Ripa and musical group Fifth Harmony warmed up the crowd in past years — though the first lady introduced several new activities, including musical eggs and “Be-Best hopscotch.”
The first lady’s signature campaign to combat online bullying was featured more prominently Monday than during last year’s festivities.
The Easter Egg Roll is one of the biggest annual events at the White House. About 30,000 guests — most of them children — began to descend on the grounds Monday starting at 7:30 a.m.
Egg farmers provided a record 74,000 eggs to the White House for the egg roll, egg decorating stations and to be served on a stick as “EggPops,” according to the American Egg Board.
“They’ve brought thousands and thousands of eggs,” Trump told the crowd. “I don’t know if you can use them all, but I’ve got a feeling with these young, very ambitious children, they’re going to find a reason, and they’ll be gone. They’ll all be gone.”
Egg rolling is a longtime tradition in Washington.
President Abraham Lincoln held informal egg-rolling parties at the White House while he was in office in the 1860s. In the 1870s, the Capitol hosted egg rolls to honor the Easter holiday. The practice became so raucous and destructive to the grounds that President Ulysses S. Grant signed a law in 1876 banning the game on the Capitol grounds.
The custom 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. The president agreed, and the tradition has endured.
For several families, Monday was years in the making.
Tim and Lynn Black, of Upper Marlboro, Md., have entered the ticket lottery for the past five years. Finally, they won.
“This is historic. It’s something our kids can tell their kids about someday, that they were here,” said Lynn Black, gesturing to her daughters, ages 8 and 6.
When asked about the political tenor of the day, Tim Black shrugged.
“Listen, it’s Easter,” he said. “We can deal with politics tomorrow.”