President Trump traversed a wide political chasm Tuesday evening when he personally welcomed George W. Bush, his occasional foil, to Blair House, the presidential guest quarters across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House.
But the actual distance was just 250 yards — a route Trump and his wife Melania traveled in the presidential parade limousine, with a motorcade of at least seven other vehicles.
The Trumps spent 23 minutes visiting with Bush and his wife, Laura, by all accounts a cordial meeting in which the former president exchanged kisses on the cheek with the current first lady at the curb.
It was the latest in a series of magnanimous gestures that President Trump has made this week to honor the legacy of former president George H.W. Bush, whose state funeral will take place at Washington National Cathedral on Wednesday.
The need for the motorcade, however, prompted questions, and a healthy dose of speculation, about why the Trumps were unable — or unwilling — to simply walk across the street.
“Presidents, including the last one, have made the walk before,” observed Edward Price, who served as National Security Council spokesman in the Obama administration.
“Bone spurs?” asked Sam Vinograd, a CNN political analyst and also a former Obama national security veteran, joking on Twitter about Trump’s explanation about his deferment from the Vietnam War draft.
In an email, Price pointed to President Barack Obama walking Chinese President Xi Jinping from the White House to Blair House after a private dinner during Xi’s state visit in September 2015. He also recalled another occasion, a year earlier, when Obama and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough left the White House for a quick trip to a nearby Starbucks, with Obama joking to reporters that “the bear is loose” — a reference to his 2008 campaign when he felt confined by his newfound Secret Service bubble.
“It’s good coffee. The president bought it,” Price recalled McDonough telling him when they returned to the White House.
Trump’s motorcade on Tuesday traveled along West Executive Drive, between the White House and the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. The iron security gates along Pennsylvania Avenue swung open and the presidential limo turned left, stopping a few yards later in front of Blair House, a stately white brick rowhouse with black shutters.
Pennsylvania Avenue and Lafayette Square had been cleared of pedestrians, who usually congregate in front of the White House for pictures or protests, as is customary when foreign leaders or other dignitaries are staying at Blair House.
Presidential motorcades typically include more than a dozen vehicles, carrying Secret Service counterassault teams, medical personnel, White House aides and the press corps. In this case, the pool reporters shadowing Trump’s movements were positioned ahead of time across the street from Blair House and were not in the motorcade, which numbered at least eight vehicles, according to video footage.
The weather Tuesday was overcast and cold, but there was no rain. President Trump was the only one of the four to wear an overcoat.
White House aides declined to comment when asked why the Trumps chose to take a motorcade and whether it was related to security.
Obama often employed a full motorcade for short trips, including fundraisers at nearby hotels such as the Jefferson, just a few blocks from the White House. Those trips entailed closing roads in downtown Washington, sometimes during rush hour, thereby snarling evening commutes.
In her autobiography “Becoming,” former first lady Michelle Obama wrote that the Secret Service sometimes requested she or her husband “take the motorcade instead of walking in the fresh air” to Blair House for security reasons.
A search of Internet archives found at least six occasions when President Obama walked from the White House to Blair House. The search did not immediately find any times he took a motorcade, other than when he and Michelle left Blair House after spending the night on Inauguration Day in January 2009 and traveled to St. John’s Church for a prayer service.
Like his predecessors, Trump also took a motorcade to the recent lighting of the National Christmas Tree, on the Ellipse — though Trump left the press pool behind after his speech when he returned to the White House, with the reporters stranded outside in frigid temperatures, reduced to tweeting their displeasure. (The White House pool of 13 reporters, photographers and videographers has long shadowed the U.S. president to record his movements for history and in case of an emergency.)
According to a pool report, the Bushes did not walk the Trumps back to the curb after the private meeting inside Blair House. Trump walked his wife to her side of the limo and waved to the press corps, but he did not respond to shouted questions as he reentered the vehicle for the short ride home.