WASHINGTON — For about an hour Monday morning, talk of North Korea and tweets about “fake media” were put on hold as the president and first lady focused on another topic of national concern: the White House Easter Egg Roll.
Perhaps no ceremonial duty prompts as much hand-wringing as the annual event, a tradition dating back to 1878 and President Rutherford B. Hayes, which has become a barometer of sorts for the health of an administration.
Following the light turnout for President Trump’s inauguration, and his insistence that the media and photographic evidence didn’t accurately report the crowd size, the pressure was on to pull off the first major White House event. Early reports indicated that preparation was behind schedule. Wells Wood Turning, the manufacturer that has long made the prized wooden egg souvenirs for the big day, tweeted at the president and first lady in February reminding them of the manufacturing deadline.
But there were no signs of disarray at the 139th annual event, which was decidedly more low-key than recent years. The guest total — around 21,000, the White House estimated — was down from more than 35,000 in the Obama days. The military band was the star entertainment. Beyoncé, Jay Z and Blue Ivy, who made the rounds in 2016, were nowhere in sight.
Melania was resplendent in a light pink sheath dress by Hervé Pierre, the designer behind her inaugural gown.
“This is the first time my husband and I (are) hosting this wonderful tradition,” she said from the portico. “It’s great you are all with us today, hope you have a great time with many activities. I want to thank (the) military band and all the staff and volunteers who work tirelessly to ensure you have a memorable experience.”
The family, including the Trumps' 11-year-old son, Barron, hit all the requisite marks: They stood alongside the Easter bunny as the national anthem played; wrote cards to members of the military; and officiated over an egg roll with wooden spoons.
Melania gave Trump a slight nudge to remind him to put his hand over his heart as the national anthem began. She also took a turn in the reading nook, following Attorney General Jeff Sessions and press secretary Sean Spicer. She chose Kathie Lee Gifford's Party Animals, telling the waiting children why it's one of her favorites.
“I really like that book because it shows we are all different, but we are all the same,” she said.
The wooden eggs were secured, all 18,000, including some in a Trump-style gold. One lucky visitor made off with a signed Make America Great Again hat.
After about an hour, the rain set in, and the Trumps headed back inside. Even the most resilient members of the crowd began to disperse well before the 2 p.m. ET end time. Some things, you just can’t plan.