No free lunch at the White House
Four of the most powerful business leaders in America arrived at the White House one day last month for lunch with President Barack Obama, sitting down in his private dining room just steps from the Oval Office.
But even for powerful CEOs, there’s no such thing as a free lunch: White House staffers collected credit card numbers for each executive and carefully billed them for the cost of the meal with the president.
The White House defended the unusual move as a way to avoid conflicts of interest. But the Bush administration didn’t charge presidential guests for meals, one former official said, and at least one etiquette expert found the whole thing unseemly – suggesting it was a serious breach of protocol.
“I’m sure they have their political reasons for doing that, but I think it’s not what quote, hospitality, unquote is all about,” said Letitia Baldrige, who headed Jacqueline Kennedy’s White House staff in the early 1960s. “We’ve got to relax about this. To have people to the White House and worry about the price of things is laughable.”
“I don’t know what the menu was, but I’m sure it wasn’t braised pheasant,” she said.
The White House did not say what was served for lunch or how much the attendees were charged. A spokeswoman said White House staff collected the credit card numbers separately from the event.
Around the table with Barack Obama that afternoon were Ursula Burns, CEO of Xerox Corporation; Muhtar Kent, CEO of The Coca-Cola Company; AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson; and Honeywell International CEO Dave Cote.
“From time to time, White House guests are asked to reimburse for their meals, the reasons include ensuring there is no conflict or appearance of a conflict,” said White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki. “That is consistent with our tough ethics rules and we will continue the practice when appropriate.”
Remember that this is the president who gave Prime Minister Gordon Brown 25 DVDs that weren't formatted for British DVD players. He also urged Michelle to run down to the White House gift shop and get two, cheap Marine Force One models for his kids. He gave the queen an iPod as a gift when he visited Britain. See the pattern here?
He, nor his wife, have the foggiest clue about protocol. Being a guest in the White House is something that's special, and never before has a president ever charged his guests for the meal they ate. But this is their arrogance. They feel they deserve this, and despite the excuse given by the president's spokesman regarding a conflict of interest it doesn't hold water as far as we're concerned.
It's telling. It really is. It's as telling about him as this photo is of the beer summit yesterday. This is not a selfless president. He's the self-serving sort, and it continues to show day after day.