20 Surprising Rules Of The White House The First Family Must Follow
1 Themed Christmas Trees
When it comes to Christmas decorating, the White House’s trees are always a big topic of discussion. Back in 1961, First Lady Jackie Kennedy started the tradition of themed Christmas trees. Every year since then, the First Lady has filled the White House with their own collection of themed Christmas trees.
Jackie Kennedy’s first Christmas tree was a Nutcracker theme during her husband’s first year in office. Other themes have included “Mother Goose,” “Antique Toy,” “Time-Honored Traditions,” and “American Flowers.”
2 No Opening Windows
The President may be the most powerful man in the country, but he’s barred from enjoying the simple, everyday pleasures most people appreciate. For example, no one in the First Family is allowed to open windows in the White House. Even if they’re craving a cool breeze or a little fresh air, popping open one of the windows is strictly forbidden.
The windows-closed rule also applies to cars. If the First Family is driving, they’ll have to turn on the air conditioning if they want a little airflow. Keeping the windows closed is just one of many security measures used to keep the President safe. However, it’s not a particularly enjoyable rule.
3 The Grand Piano Can’t Be Moved
Just as certain rooms aren’t allowed to be redecorated, there are also certain items that can’t be moved, no matter who might be living in the White House. One of these items is the grand piano that sits in the East Room or Entrance Hall.
Designed by Eric Gugler, the Steinway grand piano was gifted to the White House in 1938, when Franklin D. Roosevelt was President. The piano features eagles as the legs and golf-leaf stenciling along the side. While the First Family is allowed to play the famous piano, they are strictly forbidden from changing its position.
4 Certain Rooms Are Off-Limits To Decorations
When a new First Family enters the White House, the First Lady must choose an interior designer to work with. Once she’s chosen her preferred professional, the family is able to design aspects of the White House according to their style. The Obama family chose Michael S. Smith as their interior designer, while the Trump family chose Tham Kannalikham.
However, while the First Lady is allowed to bring her style into her new home, certain rooms are off-limits. Recognizable, museum-like areas of the White House, such as the Lincoln Bedroom or the Yellow Oval Room aren’t allowed to be changed. The Lincoln Bedroom, as the name implies, was once used by President Abraham Lincoln as an office, while the Yellow Room is reserved for formal private receptions for important guests. Considering the history of these rooms, no changes are allowed to be made to their interior design.
5 No Driving
Yet another simple pleasure the First Family loses when they enter the White House is the ability to drive. For safety reasons, the First Family is prohibited from driving on public roads. The rule is an effort to keep the family safe from potential car crashes or other road hazards. The last President to drive on a public road was Lyndon B. Johnson, who was in office from 1963 to 1969.
If the family has to be taken anywhere important, they’ll be escorted by a driver and the Secret Service. However, they still maintain the ability to drive on private roads. If a member of the First Family is truly craving some time behind the wheel, they can drive to their heart’s content on private property.
6 The ‘Football’ Must Follow The President
Wherever the President goes, the “football” must follow. But not to worry—it’s not a real football. Instead, the “football” refers to a briefcase that follows the President around, wherever he may be.
The briefcase weighs about 45 pounds, so it’s not an easy thing to carry. While it’s assumed that the briefcase houses nuclear launch codes, no one’s quite sure what’s actually inside. Still, it’s yet another thing the President has to keep track of during his time in office.
7 President Gets A New Car
Even though the President can’t drive himself around, he’s still given a new car during his time in office. Well, it’s not exactly new. The car, often referred to as Cadillac One or The Beast, is used to chauffer each President to all his necessary engagements.
While the car looks fairly normal on the outside, it’s equipped with top safety technology. It features bulletproof windows and reinforced armor along the body. Plus, it has the ability to seal itself and maintain an internal oxygen system, which will protect anyone inside from chemical attacks. When the President leaves the White House, he’s often driven in this car.
8 Only Use Secure Lines
Making a phone call for a normal person is as easy as picking up the phone and dialing the number. But for the President of the United States, there’s a lot more that goes into making a phone call. Every call the President makes, no matter how important it might be, must be made from a secure line.
Secure phone calls are of the utmost importance in the White House to ensure national security. Even if the President simply wants to ask his wife what they’re having for dinner, the call must be made from a secure line.
9 Smartphones Are Banned Or Heavily Monitored
While you might assume that the President has all the latest tech and gadgets, that’s certainly not the case. In fact, the President is pretty much barred from owning a smartphone, in large part due to security reasons. Instead of risking some kind of hack or data breach, the President is often banned from using a high-tech phone to ensure all his information stays confidential.
President Obama was allowed to keep a Blackberry during his presidency, not that it did him much good. According to his own account, the phone was heavily monitored by the Secret Service. In fact, so many features were prohibited that President Obama compared the device to a children’s play phone. In short, iPhones aren’t really an option for the President of the United States.
10 Schedule Changes Must Be Made Four Hours In Advance
When you’re the President of the United States, there’s no such thing as spontaneity. Every part of your day is highly scheduled, leaving no room for impromptu adventures. In fact, if the President wants to make changes to their schedule, they must let the Secret Service know four hours in advance.
Apparently, the Secret Service needs about that long to assess a situation and determine if there is any threat to the President. Once, President Obama wanted to organize a quick game of basketball, but the Secret Service stopped him because they didn’t have adequate time to prepare.
11 No Additional Income
While the President still has to pay for many of their own expenses, earning extra money while in office is strictly out of the question. The President is prohibited from earning any additional income during their four-year term. Thankfully, the President shouldn’t need a side hustle, as he makes about $400,000 per year.
This rule also applies to a lesser degree if the President comes into office owning a few businesses. While he doesn’t have to give up the business, he does have to entrust their operations to someone else during the time he is in office. With all their Presidential duties, it’s unlikely a President would even have time for a side hustle, making this rule an easy one to follow.
12 The Move-In Can Only Take 12 Hours
When a new President enters the White House, he’s strictly forbidden from moving in any sooner than January 20. Not only does he have to wait until that specified day, but the process also has to go off without a hitch because of the short timeframe.
On January 20, the First Family must be entirely moved into the White House within 12 hours. There’s no dillydallying allowed when it comes to entering the most important residence in the country. If you’ve ever tried to move into a new place in a short timeframe, then you know it’s no easy feat. That means the First Family must plan extensively for their move months in advance to ensure it all happens quickly and without issue.
13 Social Media Is A No-No
Again, for the sake of national security and the safety of the First Family, personal social media accounts aren’t encouraged. The President and the First Lady may have official accounts they use to communicate with the American people, but you won’t find them keeping up with personal relations on a normal account. The same goes for the children of the First Family.
During the Obama family’s time in the White House, daughters Sasha and Malia only had very limited access to Facebook. They were not allowed to open up other social media accounts. While their parents thought it was for the best, it’s always frustrating to be told not to do things other children are allowed to do.
14 Plan Their Funeral
While it sounds morbid, planning their funeral is one of the first tasks the President undertakes while in office. During the first week of their time in the White House, the President must make arrangements for how people should proceed in the case of their untimely death.
Since a presidential funeral is often a big affair, planning your own ceremony is no easy task. Beyond that, it’s never pleasant to think about your own passing. Still, planning a funeral is a necessary part of each President’s time in the White House.
15 First Ladies Have A Meeting
When a new President is brought into the White House, there are numerous meetings that take place during the transition of power. While the old President and new President often sit down for a chat, the same is true of First Ladies. Around the time of the Inauguration, the outgoing First Lady will sit down for a conversation with the incoming First Lady, usually over a cup of tea.
When President Trump took over the presidency in 2016, First Lady Michelle Obama continued the tradition with First Lady Melania Trump. The women often discuss what life is like in the White House, and the outgoing First Lady shares her experience and wisdom with her successor.
16 No Riding In Convertibles
For somewhat obvious reasons, the President is banned from riding around in a convertible. Ever since President John F. Kennedy was assassinated while riding with the top down, the car has been strictly prohibited for the leader of the United States.
Instead, the President is chauffeured around in his heavily armored vehicle, ensuring his protection. In addition to that, the people driving the President often try to stay off the main roads where possible, furthering keeping the leader of the US free from harm.
17 Host The Easter Egg Roll
Every year on Easter Sunday, the White House hosts the Easter Egg Roll. For this tradition, children roll Easter Eggs down a hill with a spoon, racing to be the first one to the bottom. The custom started all the way in 1878 and has occurred every year except when the country was at war or the White House was undergoing major construction.
When the children leave the White House after the Easter Egg Roll, they are given a wooden Easter Egg. That element of the tradition was started by First Lady Nancy Reagan. This event is just one of many that take place at the White House over the course of the year.
18 First Family Pays For Their Own Move
Not only does the First Family have to move in quickly, but they also have to cover the costs of their own move. While moving is often taxing and expensive, the new President doesn’t get any official help in covering the costs. The First Family is responsible for bringing all their own belongings to the White House and covering any associated moving fees or transportation costs.
Once the hired trucks arrive at the White House, the movers aren’t actually allowed to step inside. Instead, the residence staff takes over and moves all the First Family’s belongings into their residence. The President has to pay for all these expenses either out of their own pocket, or by using money from the campaign. The same rules apply when it’s time for the President to move out.
19 Pay For Their Own Personal Items
When the President moves into the White House, worries about rent or utilities go out the window, at least for their four-year term. While the President resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, those elements of their living expenses are fully covered.
However, the First Family doesn’t live a cushy, expense-free lifestyle. They’re still required to pay for their own personal expenses, including food, toiletries, cleaning items, and other things they may want or need. All those expenses come out of the First Family’s own pocket, so it’s smart to stay on budget, even when they’re living in the White House.
20 First Family Can Decline Secret Service Protection
It’s definitely not one of the surprising rules of the White House that the President and the vice president can’t decline Secret Service protection. The Secret Service is a federal law enforcement agency tasked with protecting the nation’s top leaders from harm. When the President and vice president enter their positions, agreeing to Secret Service protection is just part of the job.
But the same isn’t true for the family of the nation’s top officials. The spouses and adult children of both the President and vice president are allowed to decline Secret Service protection. While many families agree to be watched over by the law enforcement agency, it’s not a requirement that they are monitored 24/7.