President Donald Trump won’t be unveiling former President Barack Obama’s portrait at the White House, breaking a 40-year tradition, NBC News reported on Tuesday.
Obama would also not be interested in attending such an event, according to the report, which cited people familiar with the matter.
The White House and a representative for Obama did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Insider.
For decades, first-term presidents have held ceremonies in the East Room to unveil the portraits of their immediate predecessors. Obama did so for former President George W. Bush in 2012, for example.
“George, you went out of your way to make sure that the transition to a new administration was as seamless as possible,” Obama said at the time.
Trump and Obama have perhaps the most contentious relationship of any current and former presidents in modern US history. In recent days, Trump has made baseless allegations that Obama committed an unspecified crime. Before his transition from reality TV to politics, Trump spent years perpetuating a racist conspiracy theory regarding Obama’s place of birth.
Despite their rocky past, Obama wrote Trump an Inauguration Day letter in 2017 and left it in the desk drawer in the Oval Office; Trump said it was “beautiful.”
But that detente did not last long. Trump has frequently blamed Obama for various issues he’s faced as president, including for issues with COVID-19 testing.
Obama has generally avoided the limelight since leaving the White House. In the rare instances he’s criticized Trump, the former president has often done so without saying his successor’s name. Over the weekend, Obama appeared to excoriate Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic but did not explicitly mention him.
“More than anything, this pandemic has fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they’re doing,” Obama said during a virtual commencement address for 2020 graduates of historically black colleges and universities. “A lot of them aren’t even pretending to be in charge.”
Though Obama did not mention Trump, the former president’s comments were widely interpreted as a direct jab at his successor.
Even if both Trump and Obama were willing to participate in a portrait-unveiling ceremony, it’s possible the coronavirus pandemic could place limitations on it. Family members, staff members, and friends of former presidents tend to attend these events.
The first formal portrait unveiling took place in 1978, when President Jimmy Carter invited his predecessor, President Gerald Ford, back to the White House for a ceremony in the East Room, per NBC.
Similar ceremonies had occurred in the years before, such as when former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy returned to the White House in 1971 for the unveiling of the portraits of her and her husband, President John F. Kennedy.