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The White House scramble to host a Trump Easter bash

April 14, 2017 9:01 AM
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The White House scramble to host a Trump Easter bash

'I'm not confident they know how difficult, how complicated' it is to plan Easter Egg Roll

Now the new administration of U.S. President Donald Trump will likely pull off one of the smallest White House Easter Egg Rolls in decades as it continues to be beset with staffing shortages, reports of infighting and general tumult.

The free event drew 37,000 Egg Roll lottery winners last year and regularly attracts at least 30,000 to the South Lawn of the presidential home in Washington, D.C.

This year, an aspirational turnout of 20,000 is projected to attend Monday, according to the New York Times.

Star power at the biggest public party at the executive mansion is expected to be among the dimmest in recent memory for what's known as the most logistically demanding event on the first family's annual social calendar.

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama and President Barack Obama act out scenes from the children's book Where the Wild Things Are as they preside over the annual Easter Egg Roll at the White House in Washington on March 28, 2016. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

That might sound fine for "a smaller, low-key event," says Melinda Bates, who as a former director of the White House Visitors Center planned eight White House Eager Egg Rolls during Bill Clinton's administration. But "smaller" and "low-key?" Not exactly attributes generally associated with the Trump brand.

More likely, Bates says, is that the inexperienced team at the White House may not have fully appreciated how much the Easter Egg Roll serves as a display of its organizational prowess.

While the Trump team still needs to fill more than 470 key executive-branch appointments, hosting an Easter Egg Roll poses its own daunting challenges. There are high expectations, Bates says.

"I'm not confident they know how difficult, how complicated this is. It's literally all hands on deck, plus hands you never imagined helping," she says.

"If the Egg Roll is not organized, if it's not welcoming, that will send a message about the White House itself."

The team was off to a slow start. By late February, vendors were still unsure whether the tradition would even proceed. Previous new administrations considered it a Day 1 priority. The Trump White House only confirmed last month that the Egg Roll was still on.

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"This is a huge logistical hurdle, a massive undertaking," says Ebs Burnough, a former deputy secretary who served in the Social Office during Barack Obama administration's and helped plan the 2009 and 2010 Easter Egg Rolls.

"It was something we started planning as soon as we walked through the door, within days of President Obama being inaugurated. It was not a last-minute, thrown-together kind of thing."

Yet under the new administration, the 139th Egg Roll bears the hallmarks of a slapdash effort. The talent lineup appears to be thinner than usual.

Only two live acts have been announced, the country-pop band the Martin Family Circus and the pop-rock boy band Bro4, which recently played an anti-bullying event at a New Jersey middle school. Military bands will also provide music.

The Easter Roll performance stage previously hosted A-list names like Justin Bieber, Fergie, Idina Menzel and the cast of the TV show Glee.

During the Obama years, NBA legend Shaquille O'Neal taught basketball clinics and celebrity chef Bobby Flay gave healthy snack demos. In the Clinton era, actor Robert De Niro read on the Storytime Stage and singer Art Garfunkel played an acoustic set.

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PBS Kids told the Washington Post in late February they had not been contacted about bringing favourite mascot characters this year.

Asked in an email this week whether fixtures like Clifford the Big Red Dog might be making a return, a PBS Kids spokesperson told CBC News they have finally "received word about this year's Egg Roll" and are "working on planning."

Former White House deputy social secretary Ebs Burnough, right, meets with White House florist Laura Dowling and Michelle Obama while planning a 2010 event. (The White House)

Meanwhile, local professional Washington sports teams that often have players drop in, including the NFL's Redskins, the NBA's Wizards and the NHL's Capitals, said the White House has not yet been touch.

Melania Trump's communications director said 500 volunteers will be on hand.

In previous years, the family event on the grounds of the executive mansion involved as many as 1,600 volunteers, timed entrances for guests in two-hour blocks, celebrity bookings, security staff, snacking kiosks and diaper-changing stations — and, of course, the mass distribution of tens of thousands of commemorative wooden eggs.

Those keepsake eggs became a source of panic on Feb. 20, when a Twitter message directed at the new first family prodded them about a fast-approaching cutoff date for the mill that has long supplied the candy-coloured White House Easter eggs.

"FYI manufacturing deadlines for the Easter eggs are near," Simon Varney, co-owner of Wells Wood Turning in Maine, pleaded in a tweet from the company's account. "Please reach out!"

Varney allows that some growing pains in a young administration under transition might have accounted for the delay.

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"We did engage the White House Social Office. They did reach out to us. We're very grateful," Varney says. "You've got a new administration coming in and our team has been as responsive and as reactive as we can in order to meet the requirements."

Although Wells Wood sent a rush shipment of 40,000 wooden eggs last month, the total number produced falls short of the 85,000 transported last year. Only 18,000 eggs will be given as keepsakes at this year's White House Easter Egg Roll.

The White House Historical Association declined to provide numbers for previous years and the First Lady's Office did not respond to a request for comment.

But Bates, who wrote about her eight years planning the annual Easter Egg Roll for the Clintons in her memoir White House Story, estimates that 30,000 eggs were ordered annually to be doled out to children during her time so each child would take at least one home.

While the president's administration is understaffed, Melania Trump's East Wing office isn't faring much better. She only hired her social secretary in February. The unfilled role of director of the Visitors Office, Bates's old job, means a vital cog is missing in organizing White House tours and Easter Egg Roll planning.

The first lady has traditionally used the Easter Egg Roll to show the public who she is, says Cecilia Glembocki, who will attend her 36th Easter Egg Roll this year representing the Virginia Egg Council.

"Every year, it's very exciting to see what themes the administration is going to focus on," Glembocki says.

Laura Bush highlighted literacy on the Storytime Stage. Hillary Clinton brought computers and the internet in 1998, setting up an Earthlink tent so kids could write emails to the president. Michelle Obama introduced yoga and smoothie-making classes to promote healthy living.

A key question at this year's Egg Roll will be how Melania Trump puts her stamp on the event.

"People are always especially fascinated by the first one of a new administration because it reflects the style, interests, tastes, the vision of the first lady," Bates says. "Will Mrs. Trump have a big, gaudy, circus-like event?"

If the White House is looking for a trusted insider with previous experience to don the all-important Easter Bunny costume, there's no need to look far.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer played the part in 2008 during the last Easter Egg Roll for then-president George W. Bush.

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Source: cbc.ca

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