Why the White House Social Secretary Is Going to Have a Tough Week
— -- Pope Francis will be in the nation's capital this week, causing headaches for thousands of commuters. One Obama administration official will certainly be feeling the pressure too.
White House Social Secretary Deesha Dyer, 37, will be coordinating Pope Francis’ visit to the White House, an event that will bring nearly 15,000 people to see the pope. Dyer is also organizing Chinese President Xi Jinping's arrival on Thursday and overseeing the state dinner for President Xi on Friday.
While Pope Francis is known for his common touch, the first Chinese couple are not. Dyer and her staff must follow strict social protocol because the Chinese delegation is highly sensitive to any kind of protocol violation.
Dyer has been on the job for just five months. She previously was a hip-hop reporter for the Philadelphia City Paper and a White House intern.
First Lady Michelle Obama has used the role of social secretary to break traditions, first by selecting socialite Desiree Rogers (the first African-American to hold the job) and then Jeremy Bernard (the first male and openly gay social secretary).
“There are all sorts of places where offense could be taken, so you have to work closely with the State Department," former Social Secretary Gahl Hodges Burt told The New York Times. “I’m sure Deesha has them on speed dial.”
And all eyes will be on what the first ladies will be wearing. China’s glamorous first lady, Peng Liyuan, a former opera singer, will be the one to watch when it comes to dress choices.
“The Chinese pay a lot of attention to state visits," Cheng Li, director of the John L. Thornton China Center at the Brookings Institution, told the Washington Post. “Every detail could resonate negatively.”
What the Obamas serve for dinner will be under the microscope too. At the last state dinner in honor of China, the Obamas served former president Hu Jintao an all-American meal of steak and potatoes. Friday’s menu is still a state secret, but vegetables from the White House garden are expected to be part of the First Feast.
The guest list has not been unveiled yet. No word if the Chinese leader’s daughter Xi Mingze, a Harvard graduate, will be attending.
China’s protocol officers also reportedly requested that protesters from groups such as Falun Gong are kept out of earshot from President Xi. The Chinese do not want a repeat of 10 years ago, when a Falun Gong protester disrupted a reception for President Hu on the White House grounds.
Potshots are coming from within the U.S. too -- Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said he would offer President Xi a hamburger rather than a state dinner.