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Trump Sends Powerful Message about Israel’s Status
Wednesday, February 15, 2017
When Prime Minister Netanyahu visited the White House this week, less than a month into President Trump’s term, it sent a powerful message about Israel’s place on the priority list of the new chief executive.
Similarly noteworthy was Trump’s invitation for Netanyahu to lodge at Blair House, the official guest house of the White House, where Barack Obama denied Netanyahu a place just two years ago over a perceived slight.
A complex of four structures that was joined into one building after renovations in 1988, it has earned the title of the “most luxurious hotel in the world” or “Uncle Sam’s guest house.” When the president of the United States wants to host high-profile guests and heads of state in royal fashion, he invites them to Blair House. In fact, one of the most recent guests there was Trump himself, on the eve of his inauguration.
The original brick house in the complex was built in 1824 as a private home for Joseph Lovell, the first surgeon general of the US Army. In 1837, Francis Preston Blair, a well-known journalist and advisor to President Andrew Jackson, purchased the building for his private residence. In 1859, Blair built a home at 1653 Pennsylvania Avenue, next to Blair House, for his daughter Elizabeth and her husband, which is now an integral part of the Blair House complex.
The federal government purchased Blair House in 1942 at the urging of President Franklin Roosevelt, when the need for diplomacy grew apace with the American military role in World War II.
The need for privacy in the White House residence played a role, as well. The president’s son, Franklin Jr., recalls that his mother once found visiting British prime minister Winston Churchill wandering toward the family’s private quarters at 3 a.m., in pajamas, with his trademark cigar in hand, to continue a discussion with the president. Mrs. Roosevelt convinced him to go back to bed and wait until breakfast.
But beyond the luxurious accommodations packed with artwork and murals, Blair House is a piece of history. In 1860, when President Lincoln wanted to appoint Robert E. Lee to lead the Union Army, he asked Blair to meet with Lee in the Blair House. Lee spurned that offer and headed the Confederate Army instead. It was also the place where, in 1950, two Puerto Rican nationals tried to assassinate President Truman, who was staying at Blair House while the White House was undergoing a renovation. President Truman was in an upstairs bedroom when the sound of gunfire woke him. The badge of the White House police officer who gave his life defending Truman is displayed in his honor in the Blair House security office.
Netanyahu should be able to enjoy the accommodations — and rest easy. When the Blair House was reopened after its 1988 renovation, the 72,000-square-foot complex was outfitted with a state-of-the-art security system that includes bulletproof windows.
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