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 becomes the first woman and the first woman of color to hold the second highest office in the country. Despite this, Harris – along with her husband, Georgetown law professor Douglas Emhoff – is said to still live out of suitcases and cannot move into the private residence reserved for the Vice President because it is still being renovated.
It’s unclear why the renovations are taking so long, said an administrative official, but it’s a situation that has increasingly and understandably worried Harris, according to several people who spoke to CNN about their situation. “She’s getting frustrated,” said another government official, noting with each passing day that the desire to move into her intended home – a stately turreted mansion two and a half miles from the White House – was growing.
The second couple continue to live in makeshift accommodations at Blair House, the President’s official guest room, just across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House.
The administration has not provided an official explanation for the delay, and a Harris spokesperson has not responded to CNN’s request for comment.
CNN has looked at various government contracts that have been placed in the Vice President’s residence over the past few years on a myriad of topics, many of which detail the intense groundwork. From recently completed projects on a retention basin to a replaced tank system for $ 164,000 last September, repairs and maintenance appear to be constant. According to the contract on the US government spending website, there is also an ongoing contract for $ 3.8 million for “plumbing, heating and air conditioning companies.”
The contracts, while extensive, are not overly egregious in terms of costs and expectations, considering the house is over 9,000 square feet and was built in 1893. 2018 tax reports indicate that $ 119,000 was spent on updates and improvements in and around the grounds of the residence, for example. However, the current contracts don’t specifically address why the Vice President still doesn’t live there, leading to growing questions – and excitement – about the pace of the work.
Harris was recently spotted at her future home when she stopped by for a one-hour visit three weeks ago, according to CNN. Two administrators, aware of the ongoing updates, told CNN that Harris – who loves to cook – has requested work on the kitchen.
It’s not uncommon to have at least a couple of weeks between residents for the Navy staff who run the house to freshen up, said Elizabeth Haenle, who served as the residence’s vice president and social secretary to former Vice President Dick Cheney. “From time to time the Navy will request the vice president and their respective families to postpone moving in to allow time for maintenance and upgrades that are not easy to do once the vice president is resident,” said Haenle.
Shortly after the inauguration, a Harris representative told CNN that the vice president would not be moving in immediately, pointing out the need for some repairs to the house “which are easier to do when the house is unoccupied.” A move-in date still had to be determined at this point in time. Another administrator told CNN that some of the work included renovating the house’s chimneys – there are seven working chimneys – as well as other updates.
It lacks the comforts of home
Although the Blair House offers comfortable, even luxurious, accommodations, Harris and Emhoff’s current environment lacks the comforts of home. Museum-quality antiques and pieces of American history adorn each of over 100 rooms, including a gym and private hair salon. And while the full-time professional staff offers more than a dozen amenities that are as courteous as a luxury hotel, Blair House doesn’t offer the laid-back atmosphere that Harris and Emhoff prefer when they are at home. The couple enjoy more casual West Coast informality with frequent visits from family members and large Sunday meals, the former California senator said.
The master bedroom suite at Blair House was renovated by famous interior designer Thomas Pheasant, who was brought in to update the overall decor in 2012. It includes a massive four-poster bed with luxurious fabrics and furnishings that are more reminiscent of Mount Vernon than a Californian modern vibe. Her Washington, DC apartment, from which she moved to Blair House, was in a sleek, eco-friendly, 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 on the Naval Observatory grounds, they will find a home that is different from their city apartment or Blair House, but also very different from the White House differs. There are far fewer formalities, fewer staff and more freedom.
“The White House is the office and home of the President, so it feels like living above the ‘shop’ in the White House,” Haenle said. “For the Vice President and his family, the Vice President’s residence – or VPR – in the midst of stormy Washington is both politically and logistically calm. At the end of the day, the Vice President can travel a short distance to the northwest and take a break in a typical local environment. “Deer often roam the property when in reality it’s a stone’s throw from downtown DC office buildings and city traffic.
“You will love the pool”
The dozen of acres that make up the Naval Observatory grounds offer privacy and the opportunity to exercise in more free time than the President and First Lady at the White House can. Biden called the White House a “gilded cage” in a CNN city hall last month and complained about not having access to the same equipment when he lived in the vice president’s residence for eight years.
“You’re on 80 acres, overlooking the rest of the city,” said Biden. “You can go out and there is a swimming pool. … You can ride your bike and never leave the property and exercise – but the White House is very different. “(The Vice President’s mansion is actually on 13 acres, not 80 acres – the entire Naval Observatory site, with several separate buildings and offices unrelated to the residence, is 72 acres.)
It was former Vice President Dan Quayle who had the heated pool installed, and it became Biden’s treasured refuge. As Vice President, Biden hosted violent summer pool parties for employees and their families, took out water cannons, and participated in sodden shootouts with the participating children. In 2017, shortly after moving in, then-second lady Karen Pence shared Biden’s parting words with her in an interview shortly after her husband Mike Pence was sworn in: “That’s what Joe Biden said to us when he walked into the city limousine and left the Capitol on inauguration day – he said, “You’re going to love the pool.”
Harris, who saw intelligence agents nearby while training on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at the start of her vice presidency, will have the outside area to jog, swim, and exercise in her new home – without them Public discovered them and posted videos on social media. Harris has said she works out every morning and swimming can sometimes be part of her routine – another reason the vice president’s pool is a perk.
A vice president who loves to cook
If she wants to add her personal signature to the residence or grounds – like Quayle with the pool or George HW Bush with an outdoor horseshoe pit, or the Bidens with a garden listing the names of everyone in the house, including pets Engraved – Updates and tweaks can bypass the tedious approval process that changes must go through at the White House.
However, as with the White House, a separate foundation has been set up to cover most of the updates with government-provided funding. Like the White House, the Vice President has rooms of period furniture and decorative arts to choose from as part of a private collection reserved for the President and Vice President to make their makeshift homes feel at home and suit their personal tastes . Karen Pence once said she had set up the living quarters the way the Biden had before them, since 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 looked after and upgraded it well,” said Haenle. “During my time at the Cheney’s, we kept track of the house’s inventory and restored furniture and art dating back to the Rockefellers and Mondale’s.”
Harris is known to be satisfied by cooking, and she undoubtedly starves for the personal space to do it. She once said in an interview with New York Magazine’s “The Cut”, “When I cook, I feel like I’m in control of my life.” Harris and Emhoff love their nights in and enjoy sharing time in the kitchen and good food. The couple are separated and together are regulars at Stachowski Market, a butcher’s shop and a mini-gourmet grocery store on a picturesque corner in Georgetown.
For home entertainment, the residence has “a wraparound porch that faces away from the busy streets of northwest Washington,” notes Haenle. “It’s a special place and makes for great family gatherings on Sunday afternoons,” while still being formal enough to welcome heads of state.
Last May, Harris told Glamor magazine that it would involve Emhoff more in cooking. Her schedule can no longer handle the hands-on approach she likes to use in the kitchen. “It takes him about four hours to do what I do in an hour, but it’s delicious so I just have to be calm and let it happen,” she said.
But it’s the meditative and relaxing quality of cooking family meals that Harris has identified as therapeutic in multiple interviews, and that’s what she’s still waiting for at her official residence.