It’s unclear why renovations are taking so long, an administration official said, but it’s a situation that has left Harris increasingly and understandably upset, according to several people who spoke to CNN about his situation. “She’s getting frustrated,” said another administration official, noting that with each passing day the desire to move into the designated home, a stately turreted mansion two and a half miles from the White House, intensifies. .
The second couple continue to live in temporary housing at Blair House, the president’s official guest quarters, across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House.
The administration has not provided an official explanation for the delay and a Harris spokesperson did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.
CNN has analyzed various government contracts, awarded for myriad issues at the vice president’s residence over the past few years, many of which detail intensive fundamental work. From recently completed projects on a holding pond to a tank system replaced for $ 164,000 since last September, repairs and maintenance seem constant. There is also an ongoing $ 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 overtly egregious in terms of cost and expectation, considering the home is over 9,000 square feet and was built in 1893. 2018 tax records indicate that $ 119,000 in expenses was used to provide updates and improvements in and around the residence grounds, for example. However, the current contracts don’t specifically address why the vice president doesn’t live there yet, generating increasing questions and agitation about the pace of work.
Harris has recently been seen in her future home, showing up for an hour-long visit three weeks ago, according to CNN. Two management staff members with knowledge of the ongoing updates told CNN that Harris, who likes to cook, requested that work be done in the kitchen.
It’s not unusual for there to be at least a couple of weeks between the residents, so the naval personnel operating the home can cool off, said Elizabeth Haenle, who served as managing vice president of residence and social secretary to former Vice President Dick Cheney. “From time to time, the Navy will ask the vice president and their respective families to delay the move so they have time for maintenance and improvements that are not easy to do once the vice president is established,” Haenle said.
Shortly after the inauguration, an aide to Harris told CNN that the vice president would not be moving immediately, citing the need for some home repairs “that are more easily done when the house is vacant.” The 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.
Lacking the comforts of home
Although Blair House offers comfortable, even luxurious accommodations, Harris and Emhoff’s current surroundings lack the comforts of home. Museum-quality antiques and pieces of American history cover each of the more than 100 rooms, including a fitness center and private hair salon. And while the full-time professional staff of more than a dozen provide services as accommodating as a luxury hotel, Blair House does not offer the laid-back vibe Harris and Emhoff are said to prefer when they are at home. The couple enjoy a more casual West Coast informality, with frequent family visits and large Sunday dinners, the former California senator said.
The Blair House master bedroom was redecorated by famed interior designer Thomas Pheasant, created in 2012 to update the overall décor, and includes a massive four-poster bed covered in luxurious fabrics and furnishings that are more reminiscent of Mount Vernon than California. modern mood. His condo in Washington, DC, from which he moved to live at Blair House, was inside a sleek, eco-chic and minimalist building in the city’s West End neighborhood.
When the second couple finally move to One Observatory Circle, where the vice president’s residence is located on the Naval Observatory grounds, they will find a house quite different from their city condo or Blair House, but also very different from the White House. There are far fewer formalities, less staff, and more freedom.
“The White House is the office and home of the president, so there is a feeling of living above the ‘store’ of the White House,” Haenle said. “For the vice president and his family, the vice president’s residence, or VPR, is calm amid stormy Washington, both politically and logistically. At the end of the day, the vice president can travel a short distance northwest and find respite in a country setting “. Deer often roam the property, though it’s actually a stone’s throw from downtown DC office buildings and city traffic.
‘You’re going to love the pool’
The dozens of acres that make up the Naval Observatory grounds offer privacy and the ability to move around with more free time than the President and First Lady of the White House. Biden last month at a CNN City Hall referred to the White House as a “golden cage” and regretted not having the same supplies at his disposal as when he lived in the vice president’s residence for eight years.
“You’re on 80 acres, overlooking the rest of the city,” Biden said. “You can go out and there’s a 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 of enclosed grounds, not 80; the entire Naval Observatory compound, with several separate buildings and offices unrelated to the residence, is 72 acres.)
It was former Vice President Dan Quayle who installed the heated pool, and it became Biden’s treasured haven. While he was vice president, Biden threw rowdy summer pool parties for staff and their families, pulled out water cannons, and participated in shootouts with the children in attendance. In 2017, shortly after moving in, then-second lady Karen Pence shared Biden’s parting words in an interview right after her husband, Mike Pence, was sworn in: “That’s what Joe Biden told us when he walked into the limo and walked out of the Capitol on opening day, said, ‘You’re going to love the pool.’
Harris, who earlier in her vice presidency was seen walking up and down the stairs at the Lincoln Memorial for her training, Secret Service agents nearby, will have the outdoor space to jog, swim and exercise in her new home, without the public see it. her and post videos on social media. Harris has said that he exercises every morning and that swimming can sometimes be part of his routine, another reason the vice-presidential pool is a bonus.
A vice president who likes to cook
If you want to add your personal signature to the residence or its grounds, as Quayle did with the pool or George HW Bush did with an outdoor horseshoe pit or the Bidens did with a garden where the names of all the occupants of the Home, pets included, is on the record – Upgrades and tweaks can bypass the elaborate approvals process that any change in the White House must go through.
However, as with the White House, a separate foundation has been established to cover most of the updates with funds provided by the government. Also like the White House, the Vice President has at her disposal rooms filled with historic furniture and decorative arts to choose from as part of a private collection reserved for the President and Vice President to make their temporary homes feel homey and to their personal taste. . . Karen Pence once said that she left the dorm rooms set up in the same way as Biden’s before, as the Pences liked the layout and saw no reason to change it.
“It is a house with a lot of history and character, but over the years the Navy has kept it in good shape and improved it,” Haenle said. “During my time with the Cheneys, we went through the inventory of the house and restored furniture and art dating back to the Rockefellers and Mondales.”
For home entertaining, the residence offers “a wraparound veranda that takes you away from the busy streets of Northwest Washington,” says Haenle. “It is a special place and is ideal for family gatherings on Sunday afternoons,” while remaining formal enough to welcome heads of state.
But it’s the meditative and relaxing quality of cooking family meals that Harris has cited in multiple interviews as therapeutic, and it’s something he’s still waiting to do at his official residence.
CNN’s Maegan Vazquez contributed to this report.