The Bidens were momentarily left to wait outside the White House in an awkward moment on Inauguration Day, possibly as a result of a final “petty” act by the Trump administration.
Later, as the Bidens walked up the steps to enter the executive mansion, pausing to wave before turning to enter, the much anticipated moment fell flat as the doors failed to open and the couple was left on the doorstep.
According to The National Journal, a well-placed official not associated with the incoming Biden team told the newspaper: “The Trumps sent the butlers home when they left so there would be no one to help the Bidens when they arrived.”
“So petty,” the official reportedly added.
It is officially unclear exactly what caused the delay at the doors, which are usually opened by Marine guards.
Notably, the chief usher Timothy Harleth who had been scheduled to welcome the Bidens to the White House in the absence of Mr Trump, had been also abruptly fired five hours earlier.
The chief usher is responsible for the management of the building and oversees residence staff including construction, maintenance, remodeling, food, as well as the administrative, fiscal, and personnel functions.
White House Press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters at a daily press conference on Friday that the chief usher had been fired “before we walked in the door.”
The couple was filmed waiting and embracing in the cold as family members came up behind them before the doors eventually swung open to welcome the president.
“There was a protocol breach when the front doors were not held open for the first family as they arrived at the North Portico,” Lea Berman, who served as a White House social secretary for President George W Bush told The New York Times.
The awkward misstep only had lasted about ten seconds, but the blunder did not go unnoticed.
“The delay in opening the door did puzzle me a bit,” Betty Monkman, who was a White House curator for 30 years and helped supervise previous changeovers, told The Times.
The moment came amid a particularly chaotic household change over as Donald Trump refused to greet the incoming president at the White House, which itself required a deep clean due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Harleth was reportedly busy moving furniture ahead of the arrival of the couple when he was informed at 11.30am of his termination, people familiar with the situation told The Times.
The chief usher was appointed by Melania Trump in 2017, having previously been a director of rooms at the Trump International Hotel in Washington DC.
The job has traditionally been nonpolitical, but Mr Harleth’s appointment with a background as a Trump organisation employee added unavoidable partisanship to the role.
“It has been an honor to serve as chief usher, a position whose loyalty is not to a specific president, but rather to the institution of the presidency,” Mr Harleth told The Times.
“I am proud that I had the opportunity to lead the residence staff to receive the incoming first family with the utmost respect and dignity, not just for this administration, but for the future success of the office of the president.”