President Donald Trump’s White House residence – where an increasingly isolated figure under siege conducts his late-night phone klatches and early morning tweetstorms – is about to get a little less lonely.
With the school year over, first lady Melania Trump and the couple’s son Barron are expected to finally make their official move to Washington on June 14, according to people familiar with the planning.
The long-anticipated move – Melania Trump is the first first lady in modern history to delay her arrival – is expected to lend some degree of normalcy to a presidency defined by its abnormality in substance and style.
“Her presence is not going to stop any investigations, but at a time when this particular presidency needs an air of stability, it might lend that,” said Katherine Jellison, a history professor at the Ohio University who specializes in first lady studies. “The move helps to give the impression that the president is currently in a stable, solid marriage and that his home life is under control.”
Melania Trump’s parents, Victor and Amalija Knavs, are also expected to become more familiar figures around the White House, helping care for Barron, though they don’t plan to relocate full time to Washington as Michelle Obama’s mother Marian Robinson did. The hyper-involved grandparents currently live with their daughter and grandson in the Trump Tower penthouse and spend most weekends with the Trumps at Mar-a-Lago, or at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey.
Over the past few weeks, the often stiff-in-her-role first lady has been spending more time in the White House, building out her East Wing staff, preparing the residence for the family, and slowly increasing her schedule of public events. On Sunday evening, she attended a fundraising gala for Ford’s Theatre, and on Monday she and Trump hosted a reception at her soon-to-be-home to honor Gold Star families.
But the June 14 date is seen as a major marker on the White House calendar – when the first lady puts away the full matching set of Louis Vuitton luggage that she travels with and settles in for good.
The long-awaited permanent move is seen internally at the White House as potentially a major shift for a president who has grown increasingly cheerless in his job, lashing out at aides in frustration, and taking out his anger over how he thinks he is being treated on Twitter.
No one expects Melania Trump to be a failsafe against the message-destroying morning tweets that Trump often starts his day with – there is an understanding in the White House that no family member has the power to control the president. On Monday, for instance, Melania Trump was on the premises when Trump spent his morning online, attacking London Mayor Sadiq Khan following a terror attack, and calling the redrafted version of his travel ban a lesser, “watered down, politically correct version” of his original.
But in general, people in Trump’s orbit said, the first lady sees the tweets as damaging to her husband and generally tries to advise him toward restraint. And she is occasionally successful. On Trump’s foreign trip, aides credited Melania Trump’s presence, as well as a busier schedule, for his nine-day break from off-message tweets.
“I’m very happy she’s moving here,” said Sam Nunberg, a former Trump campaign aide who has spent time with the couple. “She’s a strong influence and personality, and I think she comforts him.”
Despite her aloof exterior and a pervasive narrative that she is miserable in a role she never wanted, friends and White House officials insist Melania is quietly but carefully following the day-to-day business of the West Wing and extremely protective of her husband’s image and agenda.
Just as she did during the campaign, she will email aides stories she considers unhelpful. She keeps tabs on which aides she believes are loyal to the president, expresses her unvarnished opinions about personnel, and shares her husband’s interest in and anger at cable news coverage of his administration.
Trump, aides said, often speaks to his wife on the phone multiple times a day, calling her for advice and referencing her in conversations. “I do think Donald listens to his wife and respects her opinions on things tremendously,” said Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy, a longtime Mar-a-Lago member and Trump confidant.
While there is great hope in the West Wing for Melania Trump to even out some of the president’s tantrums, former advisers said they expect the first lady to stay away from weighing in on specific policy fights.
When she’s in town, Melania Trump does not like to be part of the crush of aides and family members constantly running in and out of Trump’s open door Oval Office. White House aides said they’ve only ever seen her in Trump’s office before or after an event in which she is participating. Other than that, she typically remains cloistered in the East Wing with her own small staff.
But if she is a softening agent when it comes to her husband’s image, Melania Trump’s presence in the White House may be no boon for her fellow New York transplants, who are considered the more moderate aides in the West Wing.
The first lady, said people familiar with her thinking, is often supportive of her husband’s harder line, extremist viewpoints. She is a hard-line pro-Israel supporter. She has publicly defended Trump’s Muslim Ban, and in the past has perpetrated her husband’s birther conspiracy theories, as well as his disdain for the media.
“It’s not only Donald who wants to see it,” she said of President Barack Obama’s birth certificate in an appearance on The View in 2011. “It’s the American people… It’s not him that’s bringing it up. It’s the media, all the time, all the time.”
These days, she is less outspoken and has steered away from giving speeches. But despite an awkward start in the international spotlight – she appeared to laugh nervously and at the wrong moments while having dinner with Trump and the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, on the Mar-a-Lago patio last February – Melania appears to be slowly gaining confidence in her new position.
In Rome, she spoke Italian with patients she visited at the Vatican’s children’s hospital. In Tel Aviv, she dazzled some Israelis with her fitted white power suit. “Doesn’t our first lady look terrible compared to yours,” one Israeli who was observing the Trumps greet the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara on the tarmac, remarked to this reporter.
“She was tailor-made for that job as a diplomat,” Anita McBride, a former chief of staff to first lady Laura Bush, said of Melania Trump’s performance on the foreign trip. “She was very comfortable in the role, and she connected with her audiences.”
The one memorable gaffe of the trip – when she appeared to bat away her husband’s outstretched hand on the Tel Aviv tarmac – was not intended to be a repudiation of her husband, according to a person who has spoken to the couple about the embarrassing incident. Instead, that person said, it was the first lady being attuned to protocol and pushing away what she saw as an inappropriate gesture for an official arrival.
Despite the viral gaffe, “she enhanced him, overall on the foreign trip, because she is so beautifully dressed,” said Lisa Kline, who served as Gov. Sarah Palin’s stylist during the 2008 presidential campaign. “It makes such a strong statement in appearance when they arrive.”
It’s still not clear exactly what initiative Melania Trump will make her platform – during the campaign, she said she would use the role of first lady to speak out against cyberbullying. But that initiative has since been cast aside, another White House official said.
Her spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, claimed it was still an issue that Melania Trump is passionate about, even though she has yet to highlight it in any public appearance. “While cyber-bullying is something she speaks out against, that is but one subset of her focus around the overall wellness of children,” Grisham said in an email.
Living a commuter life between New York City and Washington, Melania Trump has so far avoided being a constant public presence, popping up mostly for the marquee White House events like the Easter Egg roll, the Governor’s Ball, and hosting visiting foreign dignitaries and their spouses. But she has limited her solo events.
Some expect to see more of her in public now that she has grown more comfortable and will be on campus more often.
Her defenders point out that it took Michelle Obama a year to announce her Let’s Move! public health campaign, and that Melania Trump still has time to decide how she wants to define her tenure in the White House. “We haven’t seen a lot of public speaking events,” said McBride. “It does take time to develop what your platform is going to be. She has interests that she has mentioned but it does take time to pull those pieces together.”
But insiders close to the Trumps said they don’t expect any personality transformation for the introverted first lady or her extroverted spouse. That’s in line with how the pair have lived together since their marriage in 2005.
“I don’t want to change him,” Melania Trump told NBC News host Mika Brzezinski in an interview during the campaign. “He doesn’t want to change me.
Tara Palmeri contributed to this report.