In a break with longstanding tradition, Melania Trump opted to ride with the guests she invited to share her first lady’s box during President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address.
The motorcade ride, from the White House south lawn to the Capitol building, is just a handful of minutes, but for a first couple who has not been seen together at a public event since New Year’s Eve, the separate cars were another in a string of isolated movements from a very independent first lady.
The Trumps will travel together in the same vehicle to return to the White House later this evening, according to a White House official.
Contacted by CNN, the first lady’s communications director Stephanie Grisham said Trump is “honoring her guests for the true heroes they are.”
“In addition to holding a White House reception and photo opportunity for them, along with their friends and family, she is accompanying them to the Capitol,” Grisham said in a statement. “Once there, the first lady and Mrs. Pence will host a more intimate meet-and-greet to engage with them on a personal level prior to the speech.”
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the first lady arrived separately for “no reason other than she can greet the guests and he can go straight in.”
The first lady’s decision to hold her own White House reception for the 15 guests invited to sit with her at the State of the Union, and their accompanying friends and family, was another example of Melania Trump’s autonomy. Typically, the President’s annual meet-and-greet with the guests in the Oval Office suffices for pre-speech pomp and circumstance, however, according to Grisham, the first lady felt a more intimate gathering would better honor the guests.
Barack and Michelle Obama, as well as George and Laura Bush, walked together from the White House doors to the same limo for the drive to State of the Union for all of the eight years each held office. In February 2017, the Trumps also shared a ride in The Beast to Capitol Hill for Trump’s first Joint Session of Congress.