His uncle, John Johnson, was also a butler, and the flouting of safety protocols that has made the White House a coronavirus hot spot has also put the career civil servants who work where President Trump and first lady Melania Trump live at risk of exposure. It has Allen puzzled and incensed.
“I would be begging my dad and uncle, ‘You need to get the hell up out of there,’ ” he says. “It’s like, ‘Get out! Get out!’ ”
The White House residence staff members are largely Black and Latino, and often elderly, according to Kate Anderson Brower, who compiled a trove of interviews with former staffers for her book, “The Residence.” Numbering 90-some full-time ushers, butlers, housekeepers, valets, florists, engineers and cooks charged with maintaining the historical house and creating a comfortable home free from prying eyes, they work more closely with the first family than perhaps anyone else in that building. These employees often keep their positions for decades and work for administration after administration, viewing their job as holding up the integrity of the White House regardless of who is in office.
“They’re supporting an institution, not a singular presidency,” says Anita McBride, who was Laura Bush’s chief of staff and is a White House historian for American University.
Discretion, too, is a key component of a residence staffer’s job. Speaking out about anything, including working conditions, can be a cause for dismissal. The New York Times reported Monday that two members of the housekeeping department who tested positive were told to use “discretion” when discussing their diagnosis.
As the residence staff has been caring for the first family, a chorus of concern has started to rise among former White House and residence staff members about whether the first family and this administration are taking care of those civil servants in return. For months, this administration has treated the White House as a bubble immune to the coronavirus, ignoring guidance from their own Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by refusing to wear masks, failing to maintain social distance and relying on rapid coronavirus tests that have been shown to miss infections. With the president, the first lady, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, top aide Hope Hicks, former counselor Kellyanne Conway and an ever-growing number of administration officials testing positive for the coronavirus, that bubble has burst. Now others are trying to give voice to those working behind the scenes in that building who cannot speak on their own behalf.
“I know that people in there are scared,” says Sam Kass, head chef for the Obamas for six years. “I know that they are concerned about their own lives and their families, and feel very torn about balancing their responsibilities to their country, as they see it, and putting themselves in harm’s way.”
On Sunday, the chorus rose on behalf of the Secret Service, a growing number of whom have been voicing, in unprecedented fashion, outrage over the president’s seeming indifference to the health risks faced by