Barack and Michelle Obama return to the White House for portrait unveilings

The Obamas did not have their ceremony while Republican President Donald Trump held power. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON - Mr Barack Obama and his wife, former first lady Michelle Obama, will return to the White House on Wednesday for the unveiling of their official portraits, hosted by fellow Democrat Joe Biden some five years after the former president left office.

Large, formal portraits of US presidents and first ladies adorn walls, hallways and rooms throughout the White House, and customarily a former president returns for the unveiling during his successor's tenure.

But the Obamas, who have remained popular since leaving the political limelight, did not have their ceremony while Republican President Donald Trump held power.

Mr Trump, before winning the election in 2016 and succeeding Mr Obama in 2017, was a long-time proponent of the "birther" movement that falsely suggested Mr Obama was not born in the United States.

A spokesman for Mr Obama declined to comment on the timing of the Obamas' portrait unveilings.

White House Historical Association president Stewart McLaurin said there was no prescribed process for presidential portraits.

"It's really up to the current president in the White House and the former president that is portrayed in the portrait to determine the right moment, but there is no set timeline," he said.

Mr Obama hosted former president George W. Bush and his wife Laura for their portrait unveilings in 2012 during Mr Obama's first term.

Now Mr Obama will be hosted by his former vice-president, current President Joe Biden and his wife Jill.

The Obamas and Bidens became close during Mr Obama's presidency, going through the ups and downs of their political and personal lives, including the death of Mr Biden's son, Beau, from cancer.

"Over the course of their eight years together in office, a close partnership between the two men grew through the highs and lows of the job and life," Mr Biden's press secretary, Ms Karine Jean-Pierre, told reporters on Tuesday.

The current president and first lady were honoured to host the unveiling of the portraits, "which will hang on the walls of the White House forever as reminders of the power of hope and change", she said.

The ceremony is scheduled to take place at 1.30pm Eastern Time in the White House East Room.

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