By Ryan Teague Beckwith
February 28, 2017

Kellyanne Conway on the Couch

Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the President, checks her phone after taking a photo as President Trump and leaders of historically black universities and colleges pose for a group photo in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 27, 2017.
Brendan Smialowski—AFP/Getty Images

President Donald Trump’s adviser Kellyanne Conway set off a minor internet storm when she was photographed sitting with her knees tucked under on a couch in the Oval Office. Critics argued she was being too casual in the White House, while defenders noted she was preparing to take a group photo with her phone. But it was not the first time this particular fight has broken out. In fact, it’s something of a tradition.

President Obama's Feet on the Desk

U.S. President Barack Obama (L) talks on the phone with Speaker of the House Boehner as Vice President Joe Biden listens in the Oval Office of the White House August 31, 2013 in Washington, DC.
Pete Souza—The White House/Getty Images

President Obama faced similar criticism when he was photographed with his feet on the Resolute Desk in 2010 and again in 2013. Conservative critics argued he was “disrespecting the Oval Office” and noted that he had also allowed men to go without suit jackets in the office too. “Shock, outrage and mocking criticism is building among conservatives … over a photograph showing President Obama in an informal pose, with his foot on his Oval Office desk,” noted the conservative Washington Times. Defenders argued that the Obama team was working, and that working people sometimes get a little casual.

President Bush's Feet on the Desk

President George W. Bush meets with senior staff in the Oval Office to discuss policy. Left to right: Chief of Staff Andrew Card, Advisor Karen Hughes, and Senior Advisor to the President Karl Rove, Oct. 25, 2001.
Brooks Kraft—Sygma/Getty Images

But Obama’s defenders had an even better argument: Obama wasn’t doing anything new. In fact, President George W. Bush had been photographed not wearing a suit jacket in the Oval Office as well as putting his feet up on the desk in the White House.

President Ford's Feet on the Desk

U.S. President Gerald R. Ford takes a call at his desk in the Oval Office on August 11, 1974 in Washington, D.C. The bookshelves are empty due to ex-President Richard M. Nixon's staff packing up two days prior. Ford stepped into office as president on August 9th after the resignation of Nixon.
David Hume Kennerly—Getty Images

Bush wasn’t the first, either. President Gerald Ford was also photographed putting his feet on the Oval Office desk just days after he took office in the wake of President Nixon’s resignation.

President Obama Throws a Football

U.S. President Barack Obama plays with a football in the Outer Oval Office of the White House on March 4, 2009 in Washington, DC.
Pete Souza—The White House/Getty Images

The whole exercise of criticizing a President for being too casual in the Oval Office is a tired ritual. First, a photograph surfaces of a President being casual. Then critics pounce, arguing this is part of a broader pattern reflective of the President’s lackadaisical approach to the White House. Then an old photo surfaces showing a previous President, often from the opposing party, doing the exact same thing. Here’s President Obama throwing a football…

President Reagan Throws a Football

Pres. Ronald Reagan throwing a football from his desk in the Oval Office,1982.
Mary Anne Fackelman-Miner—The White House

…and here’s President Ronald Reagan throwing a football.

President Kennedy's Kids in the Oval Office

Pres. John F. Kennedy playing w. his son John F. Kennedy Jr. at his desk in the Oval Office. 1963.
Stanley Tretick—Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

Here’s President John F. Kennedy’s son playing under the desk in the Oval Office while his dad works.

President Reagan in Sweatpants

Air Force One: Full length view of President Ronald Reagan in sweat pants and a tie reading in a doorway, Sept. 20, 1984.
Corbis/Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

And here’s President Reagan wearing a shirt and tie with sweatpants on Air Force One. Presidents work from home, after all, and long hours at that. So whenever a photo comes out of someone looking casual in the Oval Office, keep in mind the long history.


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