It has been more than two months since Kamala Harris was sworn in as Vice President of the United States, a historic moment for the country as Harris is the first woman and the first woman of color to hold the second highest office in the United States. country. Yet Harris – along with her husband, Georgetown law professor Douglas Emhoff – still lives, ostensibly, without suitcases, unable to move into the private residence reserved for the Vice President as it is still under renovation.
It’s unclear why the renovations are taking so long, an administration official said, but it’s a situation that increasingly and understandably bothered Harris, according to several people who spoke to CNN about his situation. “She’s getting frustrated,” said another administration official, noting every day that the desire to move into her designated home – a stately turreted mansion two and a half miles from the White House – grows more intense.
The second couple continue to live in temporary accommodation at Blair House, the President’s official guest quarters, just across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House.
The administration has provided no official explanation for the delay, and a spokesperson for Harris did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.
CNN has reviewed various government contracts, awarded for a myriad of issues at the Vice President’s residence in recent years, many of which detail intensive groundwork. From projects recently packed on a retention pond to a reservoir system replaced for $ 164,000 last September, repairs and maintenance appear constant. There is also an outstanding $ 3.8 million contract for “plumbing, heating and air conditioning contractors,” according to the contract on the US government spending website.
The contracts, while substantial, are not clearly huge in terms of cost and expectations, given that the house is over 9,000 square feet and was built in 1893. 2018 tax records show $ 119,000. spending was used to provide updates and improvements in and around the residence grounds, for example. However, current contracts don’t specifically address why the vice president still doesn’t live there, prompting more and more questions – and turmoil – about the pace of work.
Harris was recently spotted at her home, during an hour-long visit three weeks ago, according to CNN. Two administration staff with knowledge of ongoing updates told CNN that Harris – who enjoys cooking – has requested work to be done in the kitchen.
It is not unusual for there to be at least two weeks between residents, so that the naval personnel who run the house can cool off, said Elizabeth Haenle, who has served as senior vice president of the residence and social secretary. from former Vice President Dick Cheney. “Every now and then the Navy will ask the vice president and their respective families to delay their move in so they have time to do maintenance and upgrades that are not easy to do once. the vice-president will have taken up residence, ”said Haenle.
Shortly after the grand opening, an aide to Harris told CNN that the vice president would not be moving in immediately, citing the need for home repairs “which are easier to do with the house unoccupied.” A move-in date was yet to be determined at that time. Another administration official told CNN that some of the work included renovating the home’s fireplaces – there are seven working fireplaces – as well as other updates.
Lack of home comforts
While Blair House offers comfortable, if not luxurious, accommodations, today’s Harris and Emhoff surroundings do not have the comforts of home. Museum-quality antiques and American history pieces adorn each of the more than 100 guest rooms, which include a gym and private hair salon. And while the full-time professional staff of over a dozen provide amenities as accommodating as a luxury hotel, Blair House does not provide the laid-back vibe Harris and Emhoff prefer when they are at home. . The couple are enjoying a more laid-back informality on the West Coast, with frequent family visits and big Sunday dinners, the former California senator said.
Blair House’s master bedroom suite was redecorated by acclaimed interior designer Thomas Pheasant, brought in in 2012 to bring updates to the overall decor, and features a huge four-poster bed draped in designer fabrics and furnishings. luxuries that are more reminiscent of Mount Vernon than a modern California mood. Her condo in Washington, DC, which she moved to live in at Blair House, was inside a clean, eco-chic, minimalist building in the city’s West End.
When the second couple finally move into One Observatory Circle, where the Vice President’s residence is located on the grounds of the Naval Observatory, they will find a house quite different from their urban condo or Blair House, but also very different from the White House. There are a lot less formalities, less staff and more freedom.
“The White House is the office and home of the President, so there is that feeling of living above the White House ‘store’,” Haenle said. “For the vice president and his family, the vice president’s residence – or RVP – is quiet in the midst of stormy Washington, both politically and logistically. At the end of the day, the vice president can walk a short distance northwest and find respite in a rural setting. Deer often roam the property, though in reality it is a stone’s throw from downtown DC office buildings and city traffic.
‘You will love the pool’
The dozens of hectares that make up the land of the Naval Observatory offer privacy and the possibility of moving around with more leisure than the President and the First Lady of the White House. Last month, at a CNN town hall, Biden called the White House a “golden cage” and lamented not having the same amenities at his disposal as when he lived at the vice president’s residence for eight. years.
“You are on 80 acres, overlooking the rest of the city,” Biden said. “You can go out and there is a swimming pool. … You can ride a bike and never leave the property, and train – but the White House is very different. “(The Vice President’s mansion actually sits on 13 acres of land, not 80 – the entire Naval Observatory complex, with several separate buildings and offices unrelated to the residence, is 72 acres.)
Former Vice President Dan Quayle installed the heated pool, and it became Biden’s precious refuge. As vice president, Biden would organize boisterous summer evenings at the pool for staff and their families, pulling out water cannons and participating in shootings with the children who were in attendance. In 2017, shortly after moving in, then-second lady Karen Pence in an interview shared Biden’s farewell words just after her husband, Mike Pence, took the oath: ‘That’s what Joe Biden told us as he got into the limo and left the Capitol on opening day – he said, “You’re going to love the pool.”
Harris, who early in his vice presidency was spotted walking up and down the Lincoln Memorial steps for his training, Secret Service agents nearby will have the outdoor space for jogging, swimming and training in her new home – without the public spotting her. and post videos on social media. Harris said she works out every morning and swimming can sometimes be part of her routine – another reason the vice-presidential pool is a plus.
A vice president who loves to cook
Whether she wishes to add her personal signature to the residence or to her grounds – as Quayle did with the pool or George HW Bush with an outdoor horseshoe pit or the Bidens with a garden where the names of all occupants of the house, pets included, is engraved – updates and adjustments can bypass the complex process of approvals that any change in the White House must go through.
However, as with the White House, a separate foundation was created to cover most of the updates with funds provided by the government. Much like the White House, the Vice President has at her disposal rooms full of historic furniture and decorative arts to choose from as part of a private collection reserved for the President and Vice President for their temporary homes to be. feel at home and to their personal tastes. . Karen Pence once said that she left the rooms in the residence laid out the same way the Biden had it in front of them because the Pences liked the layout and saw no reason to change it.
“It’s a house with a lot of history and character, but over the years the Navy has kept it well maintained and improved upon,” Haenle said. “While I was at the Cheney’s, we took inventory of the house and restored furniture and artwork dating back to the Rockefellers and Mondale.”
Harris is known to derive satisfaction from cooking, and she no doubt craves personal space to do so. She once said in an interview with New York Magazine’s “The Cut”, “If I cook, I feel like I’m in control of my life.” Harris and Emhoff love to spend their nights indoors and enjoy sharing time in the kitchen and good food. The couple, separately and together, are frequent patrons of Stachowski’s Market, a butcher and mini gourmet food store located in a quaint corner of Georgetown.
For home entertainment, the residence offers “a wraparound veranda that faces the busy streets of northwest Washington,” notes Haenle. “It’s a special place and makes for great family gatherings on Sunday afternoons,” while being formal enough to welcome heads of state.
Last May, Harris told Glamor magazine that she got Emhoff more involved in the kitchen; her schedule can no longer handle the hands-on approach she likes to take in the kitchen. “It takes her about four hours to do what I do in an hour, but it’s delicious, so I just have to shut up and let it go,” she says.
But it’s the meditative and relaxing quality of preparing family meals that Harris cited in several interviews as therapeutic, and it’s something she is still waiting to do in her official residence.