With public contention bubbling between President Donald Trump and former President Barack Obama, sources close to the president say he will not honor his predecessor by unveiling a portrait of him at the White House.
The White House tradition of holding a ceremony and displaying a portrait of the previous president in the East Room has been in place for first-term presidents for decades.
The ritual has surpassed political lines in the past, but sources told NBC News that Obama’s recent criticism of the current administration’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on Trump’s decision.
The ceremony typically involves the past president, and officials say Obama likely would have no interest in attending such a ceremony if it was to be held. Potentially, if Trump wins a second term in November, it could be 2025 before Obama returns to the White House to see his portrait displayed among the other 43 presidents who have been honored with a portrait.
Breaking away from such a significant historical act is one of many touchstones of the year in politics, Michael Beschloss, presidential historian, told NBC News.
“You’ve got a president who’s talking about putting the previous one in legal jeopardy, to put it nicely. We have not seen a situation like that in history,” Beschloss said. “It takes antipathy of a new president for a predecessor to a new level.”
Trump in recent weeks has denounced Obama and former vice president and current presidential contender Joe Biden for what he alleges is their connection to the redacted intelligence documents from the 2017 Russia investigation of former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn.
The president has used the term “Obamagate” and suggested that Obama face the Senate to explain what information he may have about the Flynn case.
Katie Hill, a spokesperson for Obama, declined to comment to media about the unveiling. The White House also declined to comment about the portrait.
In 2004, former first lady Hillary Clinton told NBC News what the ceremony meant to her husband, former President Bill Clinton, after serving two terms in office.
“It is a somewhat-daunting experience to have your portrait hung in the White House,” she said. “It is something that really does, more than any other act, sort of put your place in history in this building for all the ages and all the people who come through here to see and reflect upon.”
It is unclear if a decision about the portrait is a temporary one, according to sources.
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