Why Melania Trump should visit Sophie Grégoire Trudeau

Laura Bush's former chief of staff says it's important for Melania Trump to reach out to her Canadian counterpart Sophie Grégoire Trudeau as a way to set the tone of the relationship for citizens of both countries.

Relationship between spouses of political leaders 'important,' says Laura Bush's former chief of staff

U.S. president-elect Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, take a question from the press at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Melania has said she will not be moving from New York to the White House while son Barron, 10, is in school. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

It's important for Melania Trump to reach out to her Canadian counterpart, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, says the ex-chief of staff for former president's wife Laura Bush.

"The relationships you develop as spouses of other leaders go a long way in helping set a tone for the citizens of both countries," said Anita McBride in an interview on CBC News Network's Power & Politics.

A U.S. president's first foreign trip is traditionally to Canada, but with the Trump family continuing their precedent-breaking ways, it's up in the air as to whether Melania would accompany her husband on a trip.

"It does come with the job," said McBride, who travelled to nearly 70 countries with Laura Bush during the George W. Bush administration. "I do think it's important."

A trip north to visit the prime minister and his wife would "reinforce the important relationship between the two countries," she said. 

Michelle Obama walks alongside Laura Bush to a waiting helicopter for former president George W. Bush after Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th president in 2009. (Saul Loeb/Associated Press)

Commute to the White House

Melania has already indicated she won't move into the White House until at least the end of the school year, so son Barron can finish school. The 10-year-old youngest Trump child currently attends a private school in Manhattan with tuition of $45,000 US per year. 

McBride said it isn't unheard of in American history for a president's wife not to come to Washington immediately after the inauguration.

"But this is definitely very different. I think like everything we've seen in the campaign, a new chapter has been written every day and a new playbook, certainly by Mr. Trump himself," said McBride, who now directs national conferences on the legacies of America's first ladies and their influence on politics and global diplomacy.  

Michelle Obama considered staying in Chicago

Michelle Obama also considered a delayed move to the White House in 2009, McBride said.

In that case, it was Laura Bush who played a role in convincing Obama to come to Washington midway through the year with daughters Malia and Sasha, who were 10 and seven at the time.

Melania Trump as first lady

Politics News

4 years ago
Former Chief of Staff to Laura Bush, Anita McBride, discusses what to expect from incoming first lady, Melania Trump 10:12

"One of the conversations Laura had with Mrs. Obama was to assure her that life in the White House would be OK for the girls, that they could make a family life there," said McBride. 

"I can absolutely understand Melania's concern, the fact that she would look very seriously at staying in New York."

But having a first family living in the White House is an important asset to the president in maintaining a "connection to a normal, regular life," she added.

"It is helpful for the president to have his family around him, providing that daily, regular life and sanctuary," she said. 

Role 'doesn't come with a job description'

Ultimately, it will be up to Melania to decide what kind of president's wife she wants to be, McBride said.

"That's something that's her prerogative. The first lady is not a constitutionally authorized position," she said. "There's no salary, no job description. Each person gets to rewrite the job the way they want to do it."

If Melania chooses to take on a role more removed from Washington, life at the White House will carry on, said McBride.

Laura Bush signs the visitor's book in the Rotunda of the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa as U.S. President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Paul Martin and his wife, Sheila, look on in November 2004. (Christinne Muschi/Reuters)

"There are a lot of members of the executive residence's staff who are used to supporting one president to the next," she said. "Events can be managed by residence staff. It helps to have the leadership of the first lady to set the direction ... but in this 21st-century technological age we live in, the first lady can make some of those decisions remotely."

There's also no reason to believe Melania would not be able to come down from New York to Washington when needed to preside over events, such as the annual black-tie ball coming on the heels of the Jan. 20 inauguration, McBride added.

"One of the beauties about this institution of the presidency is that there are plenty of people there to help you get these things done," McBride said. 


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversationCreate account

Already have an account?