Traditionally, it’s the role of the first lady to accompany spouses of visiting foreign leaders around Washington. That often means a good deal of showcasing local museums, schools, monuments and gardens. It’s essentially playing tour guide, but it’s part of the role of representing the Administration and playing gracious hostess to very VIP out of town guests.
Melania Trump appears to be breaking with this particular tradition.
On two pre-scheduled Washington stops Friday, one to Gallaudet University and the other to attend a National Cherry Blossom Festival committee meeting at the Japanese embassy, the first lady of Japan, Akie Abe, was alone, without Mrs. Trump to guide her.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe did some of his own solo touring. He laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. Remains there include unknown service members killed in World War II. Prime Minister Abe met with President Trump at the White House and took questions from reporters in a joint press conference.
Mrs. Trump, who has decided to live in New York through the end of the school year with her and the President’s son Barron, was on hand to greet the Abes Friday afternoon and flew with them and her husband aboard Air Force One to Palm Beach, Florida, for a weekend stay at Mar-a-Lago.
But Mrs. Abe’s solo DC outings are nothing like her previous trips to the US capital city.
In 2015, Mrs. Abe joined Michelle Obama on a visit to a Great Falls, Virginia, elementary school, where the two women were cheered by students.
Later, the spouses reconnected at the White House for a State Dinner to honor Abe’s trip to Washington.
And in 2007, Laura Bush joined her husband, George W. Bush, and Prime Minister Abe, in greeting the couple during another trip to Washington, meeting them for tea at Blair House and then walking over to the White House for dinner.
The two women also went on a solo jaunt to tour Mount Vernon, keeping one another company during a walk through the estate’s gardens.
Mrs. Abe had no such luck with a companion Friday – instead she was accompanied by staffers and handlers.
Requests for clarification about Mrs. Trump’s whereabouts earlier in the day on Friday went unanswered by the White House. Mrs. Trump has not yet named her own spokesperson.
Hours after this story was published Friday afternoon, Mrs. Trump’s office released a statement explaining her whereabouts:
“The First Lady was very much looking forward to welcoming Mrs. Abe to the White House upon her arrival in Washington; however, she was informed that Mrs. Abe had previous commitments during her stay in DC,” the statement said.
“The first lady flew to (Andrews Air Force Base) to meet the President, Prime Minister Abe and Mrs. Abe to be able to fly with them on Air Force One as it was Mrs. Abe’s first opportunity to spend time with the first lady. They will all be together for the weekend at Mar-a-Lago and have a full itinerary. Mrs. Trump is delighted to be able to welcome the Prime Minister and Mrs. Abe to the first family’s winter home, which is a very special place to her and to the entire Trump family.”
There was a dinner scheduled for Friday evening for the Abes and the Trumps at Mar-a-Lago, and on Saturday, it is expected the two spouses will be alone together while their husbands play golf and talk diplomacy.
But the absence of Melania Trump during Mrs. Abe’s visit to the nation’s capital marks a departure from past tradition, something that’s fast becoming a hallmark of this new administration.
This story has been updated to add comment from the first lady’s office.