Last year’s White House Easter egg roll featured a surprise visit from Beyoncé; athletes from the NBA and Washington Redskins; and a performance by actress and singer Idina Menzel, the voice behind that catchy song from the movie “Frozen.”
This year, the big act for the Trump administration is the Martin Family Circus, a six-person family band from Nashville that’s driving up to D.C. for the annual event in an RV.
President Trump spent weeks comparing the size of his inauguration crowds to President Obama’s, yet for the White House’s first big public event – the Easter egg roll – officials have gone out of their way to lower expectations.
While last year’s crowd was estimated at about 37,000 people, press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that only 21,000 are expected on Monday—though the White House has ordered 18,000 eggs, “in line with past years,” according to Spicer, who participated in the event as the Easter Bunny in 2008.
“The focus this year is on the quality of the children’s experience,” said Stephanie Grisham, a White House spokeswoman who recently became the first lady’s communications director, when asked about plans for the event.
Three people familiar with the effort say that planning for the egg roll didn’t begin in earnest until late February, when the White House placed its order for commemorative wooden eggs – a step taken only after the Maine-based manufacturer, Wells Wood Turning, posted a plaintive message on Twitter warning that its Easter deadlines were approaching and asking the White House to “please reach out.” (The post has since been deleted.)
The Easter egg roll may seem to be the least of the new administration’s problems as it tries to simultaneously tackle health care, immigration, taxes, and a simmering war in Syria.
But the event, traditionally held the Monday following Easter, has always played a major part in the lore of the White House. Dating back to 1876, it’s the largest open event on the grounds, which were closed to the public during World War Two.
Lawmakers receive tickets that they, in turn, can dole out to supporters and constituents. Spicer said tickets have been distributed to schools and childrens’ hospitals. The White House also ran a lottery for public tickets, first instituted under Obama in 2009, allowing people from around the country to make travel plans to come to D.C. to attend.
Frequently, the first lady uses it as a platform to tout her pet cause – be it exercise and healthy eating, literacy, or support for military families. It’s unclear if Melania Trump will highlight a specific theme this year.
“We would really like the event to speak for itself,” Grisham said when asked basic questions about the number of tickets distributed, or the size of the crowd expected.
The Obama administration started planning its first Easter egg roll during the presidential transition in 2008, according to Ellie Schafer, special assistant to the president under Obama and former director of the White House Visitors Office. At the time, the new administration was also dealing with the financial crisis and negotiating the stimulus package.
Schafer said that in January and February she fielded calls from past vendors, volunteers, partners, schools, even a port-a-potty company. “I had a lot of people reaching out to me wondering what was happening,” she said. “I know there was a lot of anxiety.”
Even the arranging of the musical talent has been a hasty affair.
The White House did not reach out to the Martin Family Circus about the possibility of performing until three or four weeks ago and were still nailing down the details, six days before the event. The Martins still had not figured out where they would stay or park their van, or how many sets they would play. “I get the impression that things will continue to change up to the day of,” said Paul Martin, one of the leader’s and the dad of the band. “We’ll just be along for the ride.”
Part of the delay may have come from the late appointment of Lindsay Reynolds as Ms. Trump’s chief of staff. The administration did not name Reynolds to the post until early February, and she is now playing an integral role in the planning. She’s an Easter Egg Roll pro, having helped to run the event under President George W. Bush as the former associate director of the White House Visitors Office. Reynolds did not respond to a request for comment.
So far, the forecast calls for a sunny, 75 degree spring day. A person briefed on the White House’s plans said: “Luckily for them, Easter did not come as early this year, so they got a little break on that.”