It’s a summer White House tradition: As soon as the president steps onto the beach or the countryside, construction equipment starts moving toward the building.
Summer renovations scheduled around the time of the President’s vacation are a regular occurrence in the Executive Palace. Among the projects this year are long-awaited upgrades to the basement drawing room, driveway reconstruction, window cleaning, replacement of stone pavers and beautification of the South Lawn.
President Joe Biden is not planning any major updates to the Oval Office, as his last predecessors did during their first vacation in August. He’s made a few changes since being hired, including setting up a small television set right behind the Resolute Desk.
All presidents find it challenging to live and work in the 222-year-old White House. Biden has been open about the fact that life in the White House is limited and has spent more than a quarter of his presidency in Delaware, where he lives two houses.
The building is maintained to museum standard standards, but maintenance is required almost constantly, and systems break down occasionally.
Doing this work while the chief is out of town is usually best for the teams of painters, carpenters, electricians and gardeners who descend on the building in August for repairs. Biden is spending this week between his homes in Delaware, and last week on Kiawah Island, South Carolina, where reporters watched him ride his bike on the sand.
“Go put on your swimsuit,” he yelled and rolled over.
He joined a long list of presidents who left the heady August month of Washington behind for more relaxed locales. Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama enjoyed rustic refinement on Martha’s Vineyard, while President George W. Bush preferred to brush and mountain bike at his ranch in Crawford, Texas.
When President Donald Trump moved into his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, he insisted it wasn’t actually a vacation, but a much-needed break during the renovation of the West Wing.
He wasn’t wrong on this point — during his first summer as president, White House maintenance staff used his absence in August to complete $3.5 million in repairs to the West Wing, including replacing the sometimes malfunctioning air conditioning system.
He also replaced the Obama-era wallpaper — installed in August 2010 — with a hand-picked pattern that included scrolls and floral medallions. The entire room had to be emptied to complete the project.
So far, Biden has not implemented a comprehensive overhaul of the Oval Office. During a rushed inauguration day with Trump, officials changed the carpet and hung new pictures, but the sofas and curtains were the same. Biden’s brother Jimmy and historian John Meacham helped make the choice.
Biden placed a number of busts in the room, including Eleanor Roosevelt and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. A bust of Cesar Chavez was placed behind Biden’s desk.
Recent official photos of the White House inside the Oval Office show some changes; Chavez’s bust has been moved in front of a window, and in its place it looks like a small television set inside a gold frame. In one of the images, he is tuned into the DirectTV “News Mix,” which shows several cable news channels.
Past presidents have recently watched television in the adjacent dining room or study rather than in the Oval Office itself. Trump is best known for watching satellite news coverage of the Capitol riots on January 6, 2021 from the presidential dining room. President Lyndon Johnson had his own three-screen television set inside the Oval Office, along with a teletype machine.
Biden’s small television set is sandwiched between more than a dozen framed family photos, stacks of books and two remote controls.
In the operating room, where the president and his aides hold top-secret discussions, including on military operations, some furniture and fixtures are almost permanently worn. The most secure facility was last updated in 2006, meaning controllers who receive briefings and monitor operations in real time are 15 years old.
In a budget request last year, the Pentagon said funds were needed for “audio-visual improvements to enable broadcast-quality displays and production capacity” inside the operations room, which is actually a group of offices in which it operates 24/7 to support the president and the national. Security Council.
Officials said work on the area would take months, although the chambers’ capabilities — including phone calls between Biden and his fellow world leaders — would not be interrupted.
Outside the building, busy construction continued for weeks on the North Lawn. South Park has been decommissioned to land the presidential helicopter while its crews work on improvements.
Last year, Biden’s plans for an extended summer vacation were predictable with the Taliban taking control of Afghanistan. He returned to Washington to meet in person with senior national security officials.
This year, Biden’s summer vacation was preceded by a long bout with Covid-19, which left him confined to the White House campus. He finally managed to leave after 18 days.
Biden has shown a preference for leaving Washington on the weekends and moving to his homes in Wilmington and Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. His plans often remain in motion until the last minute.
As of this week, he has taken 49 trips and spent 150 days of all or part of his presidency in Delaware, according to Mark Knoller, a former CBS News White House correspondent who documents presidential travel.
In the same period of his presidency, Trump spent 132 days at his home in South Florida or at a golf club in New Jersey. Obama spent 38 days on vacation in Hawaii or Martha’s Vineyard. George W. Bush spent 100 days on his Texas ranch, making 14 separate visits.
White House officials note that Delaware is closer to Washington than the destinations of Biden’s predecessors.