Why Obama is just now getting his portrait officially unveiled in the White House, two presidents later

Former First Lady Michelle Obama and former President Barack Obama at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery on February 12, 2018 in Washington, DC.Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images

  • Barack and Michelle Obama will return to the White House Wednesday to finally reveal their portraits.

  • The ceremony was delayed for two years after Trump refused to host it and Obama was uninterested.

  • The Bidens and Obamas will now reunite to continue the White House tradition.

Barack Obama and Michelle Obama will make their highly anticipated return to the White House Wednesday to reveal their official portraits as the former president and former first lady of the United States. That’s two presidents later than would have been until Donald Trump’s tradition-breaking presidency.

President Joe Biden, who served as vice president during Obama’s 8-year term, and First Lady Jill Biden will host the ceremony for the Obamas.

In a White House press conference Tuesday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the Bidens are looking forward to hosting the Obamas.

“President Biden and Dr. Biden are honored to have former President Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama back to the White House for the unveiling of their portraits, which will hang on the walls of the White House forever as reminders of the power of hope and change,” Jean-Pierre said.

The portrait ceremony is a long-standing tradition where the succeeding president can honor the commander-in-chief before them, regardless of political party. Typically, the ceremony is hosted by the former president’s immediate predecessor, in Obama’s case, that would have been Trump.

However, Trump shunned the ceremony during his presidency, refusing to host the Obamas as a result of their contentious relationship. Obama suggested that he too wasn’t interested in a ceremony of the like while Trump was president.

Despite their differences, when he left office in 2016, Trump said the note Obama left for him in the Oval Office was “beautiful,” for The Hill.

The dangers of the COVID-19 pandemic at the time also played a role in halting the original unveiling that was scheduled for 2020, forcing the Obamas to wait two years and for their paintings to hang on the walls in the hallowed halls of the White House .

Obama was the last president to host that White House tradition in May 2012 when former President George W. Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush joined him in the East Room to unveil their portraits.

“George, you went out of your way to make sure that the transition to a new administration was as seamless as possible,” Obama said during the ceremony.

When asked during a Tuesday press conference if Biden would host Trump and former First Lady Melania Trump for their portrait unveiling, Jean-Pierre deferred to the White House Historical Associationa private nonprofit educational organization that handles the ceremonies.

The office of the Obamas and the White House Historical Association did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment. Trump’s press team also did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.

The first portraits financed by the White House Historical Association were those of Lyndon B. Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson and John F. Kennedy and Jaqueline Kennedy, Stewart McLaurin, president of the organization, told the Associated Press in an interview on Friday.

Artists for the portraits are chosen by presidents and first ladies and they get to provide input on how they want themselves to be portrayed.

“It really involves how the president and first lady see themselves,” McLaurin told the AP.

Visitors in Chicago, Illinois view the official portraits of former president Barack Obama by Kehinde Wiley and former first lady Michelle Obama by Amy Sherald at The Art Institute of Chicago on June 18, 2021.

Visitors in Chicago, Illinois view the official portraits of former president Barack Obama by Kehinde Wiley and former first lady Michelle Obama by Amy Sherald at The Art Institute of Chicago on June 18, 2021.Scott Olson/Getty Images

The Obamas have another set of portraits housed at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC, but they are currently on tour at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts until October 30. Those paintings are specific to the Smithsonian and do not resemble those that will hang in the White House following the ceremony and in years to come.

This will be the former first lady’s first time visiting the White House since 2017 and Obama’s second time visiting since he officially left office.

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