By Beatriz Pascual Macias
Washington, Sep 7 (EFE).- Amid cheers, laughter and an air of nostalgia, Barack and Michelle Obama returned to the White House on Wednesday for the unveiling of their official portraits more than five years after they were succeeded by Donald and Melania Trump as president and first lady of the United States.
Though the former head of state was at the executive mansion earlier this year for an event commemorating the passage of the Affordable Care Act, Mrs. Obama had not set foot in the White House since Jan. 20, 2017.
“Barack and Michelle, welcome home,” President Joe Biden, who served as Obama’s vice president, said at the start of the ceremony in the East Room.
“Someone once said that if you’re looking for a friend in Washington, get a dog,” Barack Obama said when it came time for him to speak. “Our family was lucky enough to have two wonderful dogs. But I was even luckier to have a chance to spend eight years working day and night with a man who became a true partner and a true friend. Joe, it is now America’s good fortune to have you as president.”
“To all the former Obama-Biden staffers who are here in person, some of you are watching at home, thank you for being a part of this. When people ask me what I miss most about the White House years, it is not Air Force One that I talk about. Although, I miss Air Force One. It is the chance that I had to stand shoulder to shoulder with all of you,” the former president said.
“And some of you who’ve I’ve had a chance to stay in touch with, I’m thrilled to see that you’ve started families of your own. I am a little disappointed that I haven’t heard of anyone naming a kid ‘Barack’ yet,” he quipped.
“Or Michelle,” Mrs. Obama said.
“Or Michelle. But there is still time,” Obama said.
The Obamas praised the work of their respective portraitists, Robert McCurdy and Sharon Sprung.
“Robert is known for his paintings of public figures – Toni Morrison, the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, Muhammad Ali. But what I love about Robert’s work is that he paints people exactly the way they are, for better or worse,” Barack Obama said.
“He captures every wrinkle on your face, every crease in your shirt,” the former president said, joking that McCurdy rebuffed requests to portray him with fewer grey hairs and smaller ears.
“What I want people to remember about Michelle and me is that presidents and first ladies are human beings like everyone else. We have our gifts. We have our flaws,” Obama said.
“And when future generations walk these halls and look up at these portraits, I hope they get a better, honest sense of who Michelle and I were. And I hope they leave with a deeper understanding that if we could make it here, maybe they can too. They can do remarkable things too,” he said.
Recalling her origins in a working-class family, Michelle Obama said that Wednesday’s event made her think “not just about what has happened (but) also about what could happen.”
“Because a girl like me, she was never supposed to be up there next to Jacqueline Kennedy and Dolley Madison. She was never supposed to live in this house, and she definitely wasn’t supposed to serve as first lady,” Mrs. Obama said.
Traditionally, the unveiling of the portraits takes place early in the term of the next president, but Trump – who spent years promoting the falsehood that Barack Obama was born in Kenya – showed no interest in welcoming his predecessor back to the White House for such an occasion. EFE