In 1837, President Andrew Jackson and his staff hosted an open house to discuss issues of the day over a giant block of cheddar cheese in the main foyer of the White House.
On Wednesday, the Obama administration hearkened back to that event with a virtual open house, inviting participants to pose questions about Tuesday’s State of the Union address on social media with the hashtag #AskTheWH.
The White House’s announcement featured wordplay galore, describing the effort as a “fromage” to Jackson and declaring that “Big Block of Cheese Day is back, and it’s feta than ever.”
The event takes place through 6 p.m., with various officials slated to answer questions about their respective areas of expertise at designated times. The topics range from education and climate change to the economy and foreign policy.
Twitter user @JocelynGeorgina asked why AmeriCorps members are expected to live on stipends of less than $15,000 per year with no health benefits. President Obama suggested during his speech that individuals could barely survive with that level of income, and he has long supported efforts to expand health-care coverage.
Some participants are using the virtual open house to promote their causes rather than ask questions. Twitter user @JaneKleeb posted a video criticizing the Keystone XL pipeline proposal, for example.
Among the White House officials answering questions are senior advisers Dan Pfeiffer and Valerie Jarrett, Press Secretary Josh Earnest and Communication Director Jen Palmieri, all of whom are on the road with Obama on Wednesday.
Participating agency heads include Secretary of State John Kerry, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro and Labor Secretary Tom Perez.
Notably, the event does not include representatives from the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is still recovering from last year’s scandal over wait-time cover-ups.
Although Big Block of Cheese Day originated with the Jackson administration, TV viewers may recognize it as a tradition on NBC’s fictional White House drama “West Wing.”
The Atlantic did some research on the real-life event, explaining in a recent article that Colonel Thomas Meacham, a New York dairy farmer, dedicated and delivered a 1,400-pound wheel of cheddar to Jackson, who was barely able to put a dent in the thing by giving away chunks to friends.
Eventually, the cheese block started to stink, so the president offered it to the people during a public reception as his second term was winding down. Apparently, it was gone within hours after some 10,000 visitors arrived at the gathering.