For the second year in a row, first lady Melania Trump departed the White House solo, 40 minutes ahead of her husband for his State of the Union address.
“Mrs. Trump knows this is an important night, and wants to ensure the experience of her guests is special, and that they feel comfortable,” the first lady’s deputy chief of staff for communications Stephanie Grisham told CNN.
Those guests are 13 invited citizens who represent a broad range of President Donald Trump’s administration policy interests as well as causes championed by the first lady.
Trump has made a show of hosting the State of the Union guests a grander to-do than previous first ladies, spending more one-on-one time with them, without the President, than her recent predecessors.
Typically, the invited State of the Union guests attend a relatively brief Oval Office meet-and-greet with the President for a quick photo op and chat, prior to departing the White House for the Capitol.
But beginning last year, a second reception was added, this one hosted solely by Melania Trump in the Diplomatic Room, just inside the doors of the lower level White House South Lawn entrance. There, Trump took separate photographs with the guests, as she will again on Tuesday night.
This year’s guests also took a tour of the White House State Floor, which includes the East Room, the Cross Hall, the Red Room, the Blue Room, the Green Room and the State Dining Room, Grisham told CNN.
When the guests arrived to the Capitol building, they attended yet another Melania Trump meet-and-greet, this one in an anteroom near the Gallery, where they are also scheduled to be joined by second lady Karen Pence. After the tours and the conversations and the photographs, they were led to their seats inside the first lady’s box, where they were acknowledged individually at some point during the President’s remarks.
Last year, the first lady disrupted the longstanding tradition of the first couple exiting the White House together, and both getting into “The Beast,” the armored limousine of the President, for the brief drive to the Capitol.
Instead, the first lady made a previously publicly unannounced decision to take an entirely separate motorcade to the State of the Union. At the time, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told CNN the separate first lady motorcade was used for “no reason other than she can greet the guests and he can go straight in.” Grisham, meanwhile, told CNN Trump’s independent decision was done as part of “honoring the guests for the true heroes they are.”
The 2018 State of the Union address took place on January 30, just weeks after the Stormy Daniels scandal made headlines, putting the first couple’s marriage under a very public, and very speculative, microscope. When the first lady emerged in the gallery for the address last year, wearing a white pantsuit, it was the first time the public had seen her in a month.
Tuesday night’s State of the Union appearance was also the enigmatic first lady’s first public event in quite some time – save for photographs of her with the President this weekend traveling to and from Mar-a-Lago.
Prior to last Friday afternoon, the last public photographs of Trump were taken December 27, when she returned from a surprise Christmas visit to Iraq, almost six weeks ago.