What happens inside the White House on Inauguration Day

The Trumps' belongings will be moved out as the Bidens' belongings are moved in.

January 20, 2021, 10:25 AM

— -- As the world celebrates the swearing in of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, a highly-orchestrated transfer of power is also taking place behind the scenes at the White House.

There, dozens of White House residence staff are quickly transforming the White House to the Biden's family liking by the time they return Wednesday evening as president and first lady.

"There's a moving van that is positioned in one direction to take the belongings of the outgoing president and first family to leave the White House," Anita McBride, who served as chief of staff to first lady Laura Bush, told "Good Morning America" four years ago, when Donald Trump was entering office. "And then you have moving vans and trucks that are pulling in from the other side of the driveway on the south side of the White House that will be ready to unload all of the belongings of the new family."

President-elect Joe Biden is joined by his wife Jill Biden as they celebrate Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle during Inauguration Day ceremonies, Jan. 20, 2021, in Washington.
Evan Vucci/AP

The transformation of the Trump White House to the Biden White House is executed under the watchful eye of White House chief usher Timothy Harleth, who was hired by Donald and Melania Trump shortly after they moved into the White House.

The White House residence staff are non-political employees who typically serve under multiple administrations.

"All of the residence staff, again, no matter what role that they play on a day-to-day basis ... everybody has a job to do on that morning," McBride said. "They have very unique roles in the White House."

The residence staff begin their moving duties after bidding goodbye to the Trumps, who lived in the White House with their 14-year-old son, Barron, for four years. The first family typically says goodbye to the residence staff in an often emotional farewell meeting early in the morning on Inauguration Day.

"I think for the president and first lady that are leaving, there's mixed emotions," McBride said. "You're gonna miss the people that have been around you, your staff, the residence staff, that have taken great care of you for such a long period of time."

Of the residence staff, McBride added, "They have emotions too to say goodbye but then it's the frenetic pace that happens soon as the current president leaves the front door where they get to work and get the house ready for the next occupant."

In a departure from tradition, the Trumps left the White House early Wednesday morning on Marine One and flew to Joint Base Andrews, where they delivered farewell remarks to supporters.

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump stop to talk with the media as they walk to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House, Jan. 20, 2021, in Washington, D.C.
Alex Brandon/AP

From there, the Trumps flew on Air Force One to their resort in West Palm Beach, Florida, for the final time as president and first lady.

Their early departure means this is the first time in over 150 years where the outgoing president and first lady do not attend the inauguration.

Inside the White House

While the Trumps are en route to Florida, the White House residence staff are moving in the personal items of Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden, who spent the night before the inauguration at Blair House, across the street from the White House.

White House transformations of the past have included filling the new first family’s closet with their clothes, making sure their favorite foods are stocked and even making sure their preferred towels are hung, according to McBride.

A moving truck departs outside of the West Wing of the White House at dawn, before the 59th Presidential Inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden in Washington, DC, Jan. 20, 2021.
Al Drago/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
A moving truck departs outside of the West Wing of the White House at dawn, before the 59th Presidential Inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden in Washington, DC, Jan. 20, 2021.
Al Drago/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Once the new president is in the White House, it historically falls to the first lady to complete the transition and work closely with the residence staff.

The Bidens were not invited to the White House by the Trumps prior to the inauguration, but they do have knowledge of the White House based on the eight years they spent as the Second Family during the Obama administration.

The Bidens have free reign to redecorate the private residence on the second and third floors of the White House, but any changes to historic rooms like the Lincoln Bedroom and Queen's Bedroom must be approved by the Committee for the Preservation of the White House.

A Biden-Harris banner hangs in front of the White House Jan. 19, 2021 in Washington, DC, ahead of the 59th inaugural ceremony for President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.
Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images

"The White House is a living museum, steeped in great history, but it is constantly evolving and every new first family that comes in gets to put their imprint on it," McBride said. "It is their prerogative to decorate their private residence and Oval Office the way that they want."

McBride noted four years ago that when the Obamas moved into the White House in 2009, the first two rooms that former first lady Michelle Obama focused on were for their daughters, Malia and Sasha. Former first lady Laura Bush also did the same for her daughters, Jenna and Barbara, according to McBride.

This will also be the first time in more than a decade where at least one child is not living full-time in the White House.

The incoming president and first lady are grandparents to several grandchildren, several of whom live in Washington, D.C.