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Rules And Traditions The First Family Must Uphold In The White House

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Being the president and part of the First Family doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want. There are lots of traditions and rules that need to be upheld, and if you don’t, then it’s going to start turning heads. Read on to see the everyday rules and traditions that First Family is expected to observe during their time in the White House. It’s the simple everyday things Melania Trump used to take for granted.

1. Never Open the Windows!

While many people have been trying hard to live in America’s most famous and historical house, not so many are familiar with its restrictions. The general public may find some of these rules quite unusual. For one, windows are not allowed to be open in the White House.

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For Michelle Obama, she really missed opening the windows and letting in some fresh air during her time in the White House. She jokingly said to Ellen DeGeneres that she planned to spend her first year out of the White House “just hanging out the window.”

2. A Presidential Funeral

After taking office, one of the first things a president must do is planning for their funeral. “It may sound shocking, but during the first week of moving into the White House, the president is asked to plan his or her funeral should anything occur during their presidency,” George W. Bush’s deputy assistant said.

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A presidential funeral is a huge ordeal full of choreographed ceremonies which generally lasts for around five days. A total of eight US presidents have died while in office, and four of them were assassinated. Being the leader of the free world is never a easy task and makes you a target for many.

3. Move-In

You may not know that the first family must foot the bill for moving into the White House. They can choose their own moving company, but the movers are not allowed into the White House themselves.

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Only the residence staff can get inside the White House, so once the moving truck gets to a certain point, they must move all the stuff inside by themselves. The same goes for moving out of the White House.

4. Driving

One thing that the president and First Family lose when taking office is the pleasure of driving. They are not allowed driving on public roads, for safety reasons of course. The very last president that once drove on a public road was Lyndon B. Johnson.

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That being said, the president and the first family are allowed to drive on private roads. George W. Bush loved driving his truck around his private ranch in Crawford, Texas and Ronald Reagan often drove his jeep around his Santa Barbara property.

5. Interior Design

The White House doesn’t have an interior designer on its staff, so it is the first lady needs to hire the interior designer that the first family wants. The hiring occurs fairly shortly after the family moves into the White House. 

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The designer is responsible for redesigning and organizing the White House, apart from the historical rooms that aren’t allowed to be touched. There is a curator on staff to make sure that the historical artifacts are carefully taken care of.

6. The Football

Wherever the president is traveling, you can see that something called “The Football” isn’t too far behind. The Football is the nickname of the black briefcase that follows the president around. Its contents are largely unknown to the public but whatever is in it must be really important.

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It’s assumed that the nuclear codes are held within the black briefcase, so in case of an attack, the president would have ready access to such codes if need be. The briefcase reportedly weighs around 45 pounds, so who knows what else is inside?

7. Easter Egg Roll

The White House Easter Egg Roll is a time-honored tradition where children roll Easter eggs with a spoon in a contest across the White House lawn. It dates back to as early as 1878, though some claim that the tradition began with President Lincoln.

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The Easter egg roll is held yearly on Easter Sunday. The only times that it has been canceled was during wartime and major construction to the White House. It is customary to receive a wooden Easter egg after leaving the contest, a tradition started by First Lady Nancy Reagan.

8. Decoration Rules

Many think that the first family has full reign over the White House, that is not right. The White House is more like a museum than an actual house and there are some rooms that are not allowed to change.

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Those rooms include the Oval Office and the Lincoln Bedroom. Some decoration changes need to be approved by the historical committee that oversees the White House. But the second and third floors can be redecorated freely.

9. The Beast

Being the president of the United States doesn’t only mean you get a new house, but also a new car — and a very special car at that. It has nicknames such as “The Beast,” “Cadillac One” and “First Car,” even though it’s not quite a car.

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This car is actually more like a tank. Not only is it equipped with the essential bulletproof glass but it’s also reinforced with enough armor to withstand a bomb. Thanks to its sealing capacity and internal oxygen system it can also withstand a chemical attack.

10. Christmas Tree Themes

First Lady Jackie Kennedy started the tradition of Christmas tree themes all the way back in 1961 and it passes on to today. Her first Christmas tree theme originated from Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker,” during her husband’s first year in office.

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The tradition stuck around and each year there is a new theme that is chosen by the first lady herself. Previous themes have included “American Flower Tree,” “Antique Toy,” “Mother Goose,” and others. In 2017, First Lady Melania Trump chose a theme named “Time-Honored Traditions.”

11. January 20th

Every time a new president is elected, January 20th becomes an auspicious day for the new first family. The newly-elected president isn’t allowed to move in until the exact day, as their predecessor still resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue until January 19.

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The new First Family is only given a total of 12 hours to move into the White House, mainly for safety reasons. The Obamas reportedly only took five hours to fully move out of the White House. That might be a record!

12. Food

Being the president of the United States might seem like a cushy job but that would be wrong. The first family doesn’t just live off the tax payer’s money. They have to pay for their own food, toiletries, dry cleaning, and other personal services and items.

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As the old saying goes, there are no such things as a free lunch. Oh, and the White House kitchen staff have opened their own official Instagram page, just in case you want to know what they’re cooking for the White House staff and the First Family.

13. Turkey Pardons

The National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation is a ceremony that dates all the way back to the 1940s, but it wasn’t until Ronald Reagan that a turkey was “pardoned” although technically he didn’t actually use that specific word.

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The very first official pardon from a president happened in 1999 when President Bill Clinton pardoned ‘Harry the Turkey.’ It is certainly expected that the sitting president pardons a turkey on Thanksgiving although it is a relatively new tradition.

14. Constantly Under Surveillance

Once you become a member of the First Family, you lose certain liberties, like being able to go wherever you want when you want by yourself. Once you belong to the first family, you are under constant surveillance by the secret service.

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The secret service is tasked with guarding the president, their family, as well as the vice-president’s family. No matter what you’re doing or where you’re doing it, if you’re part of the first family, you are always being watched.

15. No iPhones

Another downfall of being the president is that you are basically denied access to all the newest and latest technology. The reason? Like just about everything else, security. The very first president to have a smartphone was President Barack Obama.

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Obama was allowed to keep a Blackberry during his presidency but it was so heavily modified by the secret service that it was hardly a smartphone. “Does your three-year-old have one of those play phones? That’s basically the phone I got,” Obama said.

16. Decoration Budget

Presidents can’t just go all out on the redecoration of the White House. They are allotted a total budget of $100,000 and anything over that comes directly out of their own pockets. The humble Carters reportedly did use all of the then budget of $50,000.

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The Reagans turned down the offer and redecorated the White House with their own money. Meanwhile the Clintons and Obamas spent around the same amount of money as the Carters. But none of those figures compares with the Kennedy’s full restoration of the famous house. Including today’s inflation, they spent about $16.4 million on the project!

17. Convertibles

Not only can the president not drive on public roads, there are also some types of vehicles that they cant ride in. One type of car that you won’t see a president riding around in anymore is a convertible.

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Ever since President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in the back seat of a convertible, the secret service has been off-limits for any sitting president. Read on to find out what other rules the first family and the president must follow.

18. Secure Lines

Another rule that the president always must follow is to make phone calls only from secure lines. No matter whether the call is personal or public, it must be done on a secure line. This is a very important rule.

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All incoming and outgoing calls made by the president must be made on a secure line for national security reasons. “Because the smartphones of high-level government officials — including the President — are obvious targets for foreign intelligence services, the government goes to significant effort to ensure that government-issued smartphones are constantly updated to address security vulnerabilities,” one White House expert stated.

19. Plan, Plan, Plan

When you’re the president almost every minute of your day is planned in advance. And just try to squeeze in something that wasn’t on the schedule! The secret service probably won't allow it, not unless you inform them four hours ahead of time.

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Once, President Obama reportedly tried to organize an impromptu basketball match but was stopped by the secret service because he didn’t inform them four hours ahead of time. The secret service needs time to make sure that there is zero threat to the president’s safety.

20. Correspondents’ Dinner

It’s not a rule that the president must show up to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, but it is a long-held tradition that they appear for some light-hearted humor at their own expense. The event is generally attended by journalists, athletes, comedians, and pop culture icons.

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The White House Correspondents’ Dinner is a celebration of the First Amendment, you know, the one guaranteeing free speech so the president usually gets roasted. There are also scholarships and awards given out at the dinner, which are funded by the admission fees.

21. Earning Extra Money

One thing that the president is prohibated from doing is earning an additional income outside of their government salary. So you’re never going to be seeing the president moonlighting. A sitting president earns $400,000 a year.

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Also, if the president owns a business previously they must take a hands-off approach to how it is run. Generally, they can leave the business in someone else’s hands. If they have any investments (which almost every president does) it must go into a blind trust during their tenure as president.

22. Social Media

Social media accounts for the first children are usually very limited. Sasha and Malia Obama were not allowed to open Twitter accounts and had very limited access to Facebook. While it might be a perk to be part of the first family, it can’t be easy not being allowed to do stuff other kids do.

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“I still am not a big believer in Facebook for young people … particularly for them, because they’re in the public eye. Some of it’s stuff they don’t need to see and be a part of … So we try to protect them from too much of the public voice,” Michelle Obama said.

23. Secret Service

After the assassination of President McKinley in 1901, Congress passed a law that officially charged the secret service with the safety of the president and their family. The secret service is also responsible for the vice president’s family and the president-elect and vice president-elect in the event of an election year.

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It may, however, surprise you to hear that some family members can refuse the protection of the secret service. For instance, Donald Trump Jr. gave up his right to be protected by the secret service back in September of 2017.

24. Car Windows

Besides being chauffeured around in an armored vehicle, the first family is also never allowed to open a car window. On the rare occasion that a window is opened, it's usually always on private estate away from the public’s eye.

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“One day as a treat, my lead agent let me have the windows open on the way to Camp David. It was like five minutes out, and he was like, ‘The window’s open. Enjoy it!’ I was like, ‘Thanks, Alan,'” Michelle Obama recalled.

25. The First Ladies

After an election, it is a tradition that the incoming and outgoing first ladies sit down to talk usually over a cup of tea at the White House. Most recently, that occurred when outgoing first lady Michelle Obama met with Melania Trump to talk about life in the White House.

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The two reportedly talked about raising children in the White House specifically. That certainly can’t be easy. Michelle Obama also gave Melania Trump a private tour of the White House before going to the Oval Office to meet their husbands.

26. Breaking The Law

While the president may appear to be above the law, considering that the president is the person who signs bills into law, they are never allowed to break the law. In terms of breaking the law, they are like any other average citizen.

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Should a sitting president break the law during their term in office then Congress has the right to deal with it accordingly. The House of Representatives can impeach a president while the Senate can have the president taken to court, just like any other average citizen.

27. Declaring War

While the president does have a lot of power, one thing they can’t do is to declare war on another country. Under the constitution, only Congress has the right to declare war. The last time war was declared on another country was World War II.

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Congress has officially declared war on other nations only 11 times. The very first declaration of war was issued against Great Britain back in 1812. The United States is currently in conflicts with several countries but has yet to declare war on any of them.

28. The Annual Hanukkah Party

While not technically a rule, it has become a tradition for the president to hold an annual Hanukkah party. The tradition began in 1979 when President Jimmy Carter was in office. Carter lit the menorah on the Ellipse, a park south of the White House.

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President George W. Bush was the very first president to ever light the Hanukkah menorah in the White House itself in 2001. The tradition continued through to this day. Follow us to find out more rules and long-standing traditions that the first family is expected to uphold.

29. The Grand Piano

While the First Family is allowed to redecorate most of the rooms in the White House there are certain items that are not allowed be be moved, such as the famous grand piano. It can be played, however, but it cannot be moved.

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There is a White House curator on staff to make sure that certain historical artifacts and art are taken care of, a task that can prove to be difficult especially if there are young children residing in the White House.

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