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Biden's West Wing has a moon rock, a rugby ball and homemade cookies

U.S. President Joe Biden is seen in the White House Oval Office of in January 2021 in Washington, D.C., as Vice President Kamala Harris looks on.
Doug Mills
Getty Images
U.S. President Joe Biden is seen in the White House Oval Office of in January 2021 in Washington, D.C., as Vice President Kamala Harris looks on.

One of the perks of the presidency is getting to personalize the Oval Office. President Joe Biden shared his take on the executive West Wing nook in a rare video tour for Architectural Digest magazine.

"I chose the things that sort of represent why I got into public life to begin with," the president said in the video published on Friday.

In his Oval Office, he's added four busts of Americans celebrated for their commitment to civil rights — Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., former Attorney General Robert Kennedy, Rosa Parks and Cesar Chavez.

Biden shows off a photo of himself with his grandson Beau peeking out from the historic Resolute Desk — his re-enactment of the iconic photo of President John F. Kennedy with his toddler son John F. Kennedy Jr. (a.k.a. "John-John") playing under his father's desk.

Nearby is a portrait of Benjamin Franklin, who founded the University of Pennsylvania. It's a nod to Biden's teaching tenure and his children's alma mater, the president said.

Biden is bipartisan in his borrowing from the White House furniture archive, says presidential historian Alexis Coe. The 46th president kept the gold curtains from the Trump era, but swapped out his predecessor's neutral-toned rug for Clinton's dark blue one and has George W. Bush's couch.

He credits his brother James Biden and presidential historian Jon Meacham for most of the other decor decisions. The younger Biden and Meacham, he said, helped curate the selection of portraits featured above the fireplace: Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton. The leaders, Biden said, represent possibilities foundational to America. "There's not a single thing we can't do," he said.

Sketches of abolitionist Frederick Douglass line the hallway to a more private office, where the president says he writes his speeches. In it, there's a gallery wall of framed kids' drawings and letters sent to the president.

Few presidents have renovated or made major alterations to the Oval Office, noted Coe. But Biden's unique contributions to the White House furnishings include an Irish rugby team ball signed and given to him by his distant cousins, two of whom are current and former star rugby players in Ireland. There's also a moon rock behind a display case, a 1972 lunar sample that NASA lent to the Oval Office.

"It's literally a rock from the moon," Biden said.

In the adjoining Cabinet Room, he shares his Oval Office tradition: keeping homemade chocolate chip cookies around, all individually wrapped with a presidential seal.

Coe, author of the George Washington biography You Never Forget Your First, described Biden in the video as a "a less demure version of Jackie Kennedy during her famous White House tour."

As the oldest sitting president who's also running for re-election next year, Biden's tour is a good play for relevance, she added.

"Despite the incessant talk of age, he adapts to a changing population, and the kind of home tour they like, with good humor," she said.

Biden isn't the only U.S. president to give the interior design and architecture magazine a look inside the White House residence. But he's the first sitting president to appear on the magazine's Open Door video tour series, a treatment typically reserved for Hollywood A-listers and design influencers.

"During an election year, presidents sometimes promote their administration the way a celebrity would promote a movie," Coe said. "They go on prime time shows, so why not offer video tours? The AD [tour] was certainly more enjoyable than time spent on a late-night host's couch."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Emma Bowman
[Copyright 2024 NPR]