By Brendan Pringle
First lady Melania Trump is saving taxpayer money by taking on a similar work load with a much smaller staff than her predecessor.
While some in the media have mocked her fashion choices and her accent, others have taken aim at her main project, the “Be Best” initiative, which seeks to help children develop positive social, emotional and physical habits.
However, one item they can’t criticize is her staffing costs.
Mrs. Trump currently has one-third of the staff of Michelle Obama, according to Stephanie Grisham, the first lady’s communications director. White House personnel reports from June 2010 and June 2018 further reveal a significant reduction in the number of positions with “first lady” in the title. The 2010 report shows 15 positions with combined salaries of $1,198,870, while the 2018 report shows three positions with combined salaries of $449,700. Also, the number of director-level positions who served Mrs. Obama in the White House was much higher than that of Mrs. Trump. These numbers don’t include all of the positions that serve the first lady, but the difference in cost and quantity of these positions alone is significant.
“We are a tight-knit and professional team,” said Grisham.
She feels that having a smaller staff has not affected Mrs. Trump’s overall impact.
“In addition to managing the daily needs of a first lady and the residence, the East Wing has successfully executed several large-scale events in the White House, all over the country and on many international trips,” said Grisham.
Anita McBride, former chief of staff to Laura Bush, believes the public has a false, pre-conceived notion of how the East Wing should operate.
“People expect a lot from first ladies,” said McBride. “That may be unfair since they really are free to do as much or as little as they choose, but in today’s environment we want the president’s spouse to be active and engaged. Mrs. Trump has so far struck a balance of choosing what she is comfortable with, and people are becoming accustomed to her choice of how she takes on the job.”
Despite her smaller staff and budget, Mrs. Trump has maintained a full schedule. She has hosted holiday events at the White House and the first State Dinner; she launched her “Be Best” initiative and organized several successful events focusing on children; and official travel and engagements around the world have kept her extremely busy.
Mrs. Trump’s ways may be due in part to her husband’s political inexperience. She did not come to the White House towing a complex web of patronage.
“So many previous first ladies came from a political life, so they were used to having the staff involved in public issues,” said James Rosebush, the longest-serving chief of staff to Nancy Reagan and deputy assistant to President Ronald Reagan. “Melania Trump is developing her own presence and her own message on the job.”
Rosebush detailed his White House experiences in “True Reagan: What Made Ronald Reagan Great and Why It Matters,” published in 2016, and has closely followed the first ladies in subsequent administrations.
“Even though you don’t see evidence of what Melania Trump is doing because the media probably doesn’t adequately cover her, she’s working every day,” said Rosebush. “A lot of what the first lady does goes unseen.”
Mrs. Trump recently completed her fist major solo international tour which took her to five African countries where her international background was likely an asset. Countries such as Malawi have never been visited by a U.S. First Lady — let alone a U.S. President.
“She speaks five languages, she came [as an immigrant] to this country, she adopted this country, she loves America, and I think it’s an opportunity to represent a lot of people in this country who may have not been born in the United States,” said Rosebush. “I would like to see more of her value appreciated.”
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