White House

Melania Trump is silencing her critics and taking center stage

U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump arrive at a "Make America Great Again" rally at Orlando-Melbourne International Airport in Melbourne, Florida, U.S. February 18, 2017.

U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump arrive at a "Make America Great Again" rally at Orlando-Melbourne International Airport in Melbourne, Florida, U.S. February 18, 2017.  (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

When it was first announced Melania Trump would not be moving to the White House immediately, as she wanted her 10 year-old son to finish the school year in NYC, critics questioned her interest in her new role.

Today, more than a month since President Trump took office, we’ve seen her in action, comfortably navigating several high profile events. What do the critics say now?

With two foreign leader visits in one week -- she hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara at the White House, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie Abe in Palm Beach, Fla.

When she led the crowd in the Lord’s Prayer at an event in front of thousands at the president’s Florida rally, she received a standing ovation.  

That tells me this is just the beginning. We should not be surprised she intends to be active, true to herself, carefully making decisions on how to use her role, and not be defined by others’ expectations.

My assumption does not come from looking into a crystal ball. But rather from observing Mrs. Trump’s modus operandus on the campaign trail and as a public figure for years prior.

The Office of First Lady is unlike any other, with no statutory responsibilities, and when you walk in the door you make it your own, finding ways to put your stamp on the office.  

The only thing you don’t have any control over are the increasingly high expectations that come with the role. But each first lady finds a way to operate within her own boundaries and make her contributions to the country.

A relatively unknown fact, one of our most outgoing first ladies, was in fact, afraid to give speeches. This was so true of Lady Bird Johnson that when she realized that she had the highest grades senior year in high school class, she purposely allowed her grades to slide to ensure she would not have to give a speech at graduation.

Imagine eventually being married to someone who depended on you to give political speeches across a district, a state, or an entire nation!

Mrs. Johnson travelled more than 35,000 miles when her husband was running as vice president with President Kennedy. As first lady she undertook a historic, four-day, 1,628-mile campaign trip through eight southern states to champion President Johnson’s civil rights legislation. At the time, these states were so torn apart about the law that it was deemed not safe enough for the president to travel to them, but the first lady believed her presence would help her husband and the cause of equality.

It reminds all of us, we don’t know a first lady’s capacity until she serves in the office and history calls her to rise to the occasion. Remember, during the campaign, Melania Trump did not appear regularly but rather picked the right moments to emphasize her contributions as a mother, businesswoman, entrepreneur, and, advocate for her husband, above all else.

She did not appear at everyone’s whim but only when it would capture the most attention. Her final speech of the campaign, arguably coming at a delicate time, was carried live by cable news and discussed extensively as the dominant news story.

On Tuesday night, Mrs. Trump takes center stage yet again with the guests she has chosen to sit alongside her at her husband’s Joint Address to Congress. The invitation is extended to these guests carefully reflect the most important priorities of her husband’s agenda. They include:

- Megan Crowley, who suffers from Pompe Disease, a rare and deadly inherited muscle-weakening condition. Crowley’s father never gave up the fight to help her and founded a pharmaceutical company to develop a drug to keep her alive. Megan was not expected to live more than a few years, and now she is 20 years-old.

- Denisha Merriweather, who has been very vocal discussing how instrumental the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program has been in her life, enabling her to attend a private high school.

- Jessica Davis and Susan Oliver, widows of California police officers Michael Davis Jr. and Danny Oliver. A man living in the country illegally killed these police officers as they served in the line of duty in 2014. Jamiel Shaw, Sr., whose son, a high school football player, was shot and killed by a person living in the country illegally in 2008 in California.

- Maureen McCarthy Scalia, the widow of late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

At Tuesday night’s Joint Session of Congress we will see yet again, the poise, grace and effectiveness of Melania Trump as the first lady of the United States.

I predict this will further diminish the critics questions of her interest in the role of first lady.