Facebook Twitter Tumblr Close Skip to main content
A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Blair House

Q: Why did the Obamas stay at a hotel instead of Blair House?

A: The family wanted the daughters to start school in early January, much earlier in the month than recent presidents have taken up residence there. The Bush administration said the guest house was unavailable, and a former Australian prime minister stayed there Jan. 12.

Full Question

Is it true that the Blair House was not available to the Obamas because the Bush administration was holding it for some foreign ex-official? If so, was this done to intentionally block the Obamas from staying in the official president-elect quarters?

Full Answer

On Jan. 4, President-elect Barack Obama and his family moved into the Hay-Adams Hotel. On Jan. 15, they’ll move into Blair House, the official state guest house used by president-elects in the days before the inauguration. On Jan. 20 (Inauguration Day), the Obamas will move into the White House residence. All three are located in a near semi-circle around Washington, D.C.’s Lafayette Park.

This three-part move has been necessitated by the Obamas desire to have their daughters in Washington to begin school immediately after the Christmas holiday. On Dec. 12, the New York Times reported that the Obamas had requested to move into Blair House in early January but were told that it was unavailable, though it "remained unclear" why.

On Jan. 6, the Washington Post, among others, reported that former Australian Prime Minister John Howard would stay at the residence on Jan. 12 and that there were "several other planned parties at the Blair House."

Some bloggers and commentators have asked questions about the timing of this situation and wondered if the Obamas got "snubbed." We make no judgment on the Bush administration’s intention. But it is worth noting that incoming presidents normally do not stay at Blair House for long:

  • President-elect Ronald Reagan stayed from Jan. 14 until his inauguration.
  • President-elect George H.W. Bush stayed from Jan. 18 to Jan. 20 in 1989.
  • President-elect Bill Clinton stayed for three days before his inauguration.
  • President elect George W. Bush stayed from Jan. 17 to Jan. 20 in 2001.

– Justin Bank


Rucker, Phillip and Kamen, Al, "Blair House Mystery Solved: It’s John Howard," Washington Post. 6 Jan 2009.

Cooper, Helene, "Sorry, We’re Booked, White House Tells Obamas," New York Times. 12 Dec 2008.