Get ready for the in-law in chief.
President-elect Barack Obama’s mother-in-law, Marian Robinson, is moving into the White House at least temporarily to join Michelle Obama and the two children, transition officials said Friday.
That’s good news not just for late-night comics, but for 10-year-old Malia and 7-year-old Sasha. During the campaign, Robinson retired from her job as a bank executive secretary to help care for her granddaughters.
“Mrs. Robinson will be coming with the family to help the girls get acclimated, and she will determine in the coming months whether or not she wants to stay in D.C. permanently,” said Katie McCormick Lelyveld, spokeswoman for Michelle Obama.
Michelle Obama also made another hotly awaited decision: She’s keeping the White House chef. Cristeta Comerford took the job in 2005 and is the first woman and first minority to serve as executive chef.
“Cristeta Comerford brings such incredible talent to the White House operation and came very highly regarded from the Bush family,” Michelle Obama said in a statement released by the transition team. “Also the mom of a young daughter, I appreciate our shared perspective on the importance of healthy eating and healthy families.”
Plenty of in-laws have taken up residence in the White House before, not to mention cousins, grandchildren and other relatives.
“Throughout history there have been many extended first families in office,” said Robert Watson, author of “Life in the White House.”
Ulysses S. Grant’s father-in-law, Richard Dent, stayed for several years. Harry S. Truman’s mother-in-law, Madge Gates Wallace, lived there, too, and was critical of her son-in-law.
“She never liked him. She always felt that Bess had married below her station,” said Myra Gutin, a first lady historian and professor at Ryder University in New Jersey.
“For his part, he was gracious. Whatever Mother Wallace wanted, she pretty much got.”
Mamie Eisenhower’s mother also had extended stays, but like her daughter she tended to sleep until noon, said Maria Downs of the White House Historical Association.
Even the presidents’ mothers can be tough. Lillian Carter stayed in the White House and got on well with her son Jimmy, but Gutin said that when he first told her, “Mom, I’m going to run for president,” she replied, “President of what?”
By all accounts, Obama has a good relationship with his mother-in-law. She had put off retirement for years, but finally retired last summer to take care of the granddaughters while their parents campaigned.
“She didn’t want anyone else taking care of the kids but her,” McCormick Lelyveld said. “She wanted to be the one there.”
Barack Obama has called her one of the unsung heroes of his campaign, and spoke of holding her hand on election night.
But when asked by “60 Minutes” if Robinson would move in, he quipped: “Well, I don’t tell my mother-in-law what to do. But I’m not stupid. That’s why I got elected president, man.”
In some ways, Mrs. Robinson’s decision to move – at least temporarily — is no real surprise. During the presidential campaign, Mrs. Robinson was a family mainstay, caring for the Obama girls, Sasha and Malia, while their parents were on the road.
She took them to school, to piano lesson and dance.