The year in Melania

Updated 10:10 AM EST, Sun January 21, 2018
02:45 - Source: CNN
A look back at Melania's first year

Story highlights

An "independent" first lady passes her first year

Melania Trump remains a mysterious figure in the Trump orbit

Here are the highs and lows of her first year as FLOTUS

Washington CNN —  

Melania Trump is perhaps a unique first lady in modern history, an immigrant, a fashion model, a third wife and, by her own account, a notoriously private woman.

After delaying her official move into America’s most famous residence until June, the first lady has worked the past several months to make the unfamiliar place a comfortable home.

“She is clearly not comfortable revealing too much of herself,” said Kate Andersen Brower, author of “First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies” and a CNN contributor.

“And while we should respect her privacy, it makes it difficult to relate to her, or to feel like we know her at all,” she added.

One year in

Trump has settled into the role to a degree that appears to please her supporters but still not quite satisfy her critics. Though she outlined a nascent platform in September – helping children – she has yet to deliver a refined agenda for just how she will accomplish this, or which specific areas of “help” require her full attention. Her communications director, Stephanie Grisham, told CNN to expect a “formal” unveiling of the first lady’s agenda “in coming months.”

“I think she will continue to focus on the apolitical issue of helping children,” Brower said. “But because her husband is so divisive, almost anything she touches, including cyberbullying, is radioactive.”

Trump appears to be forging ahead, however, starting 2018 with a staff expansion, adding a communications aide, a new director of advance and operations and, most telling, a director of policy, signaling there is in fact policy to be had.

“She’s likely to roll out an initiative, or set of initiatives,” said Anita McBride, who served as first lady Laura Bush’s chief of staff. “At least now there’s a structure around her staff. You also have to remember in this role, it’s important to be prepared for the things you can’t plan for.”

McBride recalled how quickly Bush’s team had to pivot in the wake of 9/11, and she is hopeful that Trump’s staff of now 12 full-time employees is cognizant of the first lady’s needs, no matter how new to the role she is.

To an extent, it should be expected that a former model with zero experience in politics, social work and public speaking would take more time than most to find her voice, not to mention her footing.

“Any person thrown into the role of first lady that doesn’t have public ambitions is in a tough spot,” said Barbara Perry, a professor and director of presidential studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. “To be honest, they’re all thrown in, especially in the modern media age – it’s a very difficult position. Then layer upon that not being a native English speaker and being more introverted as a person.”

Meeting Melania