Jill Biden to meet the Queen


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Biden has insisted at just about every turn that people address her by her first name. She means it — people actually call her that or, sometimes, “Dr. B.” The familiar approachability is part of the Biden narrative, and an aspect of her personality into which she leans hard.

“Put her in a palace with a Queen, or wherever you want, she’s ‘Jill from Philly,’ ” says one longtime acquaintance of Biden, when asked if the first lady might maintain her casualness while in the presence of one of the most formally nuanced people in the world. Internally, embracing her down-home roots is fine, but externally, meeting Queen Elizabeth II involves a curtsy, speaking only when spoken to, and making sure the royal is always leading the encounter, whether she sits or stands or walks — the guest does so only after Her Royal Majesty.

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On Wednesday, aboard Air Force One, Biden tweeted a photo of herself thumbing through a giant binder with the caption, “Prepping for the G7” — a last-minute cram session before wheels touched down. The people familiar with Biden’s schedule in the run-up to the trip indicated the first lady did not obsess over details weeks in advance.
One White House staffer says Biden has little interest in the formality of “where to stand, or whether or not to hold someone’s hand or give them a hug. She just does what she feels.” (Conversely, Joe Biden will be the 12th US President the Queen has met during her 69-year reign — she likely already knows where to stand.)

A State Department official who worked in the protocol office during previous administrations notes the instructions from the Palace about world leader visits is “rigorous.” The State Department will send memos to the East Wing staff in advance about particularities with a visit, passed along from the Palace, as well as detailed outlines of each person the first lady might come in contact with, what their role is and how to address said person.

And, in a pinch, the chief of protocol is on hand to brief ahead of meetings, to answer any questions throughout the visit, and to help procure, research and vet any gifts exchanged between the leaders. (When the Obamas first met the Queen in 2009 they gave her an iPod filled with videos and photos of her 2007 trip to Virginia.)

The current acting chief of protocol, Asel Roberts, is part of the entourage traveling with the President and first lady in England this week.

Avoiding protocol pitfalls

US President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden arrive on Air Force One at RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk, ahead of the G7 summit in Cornwall.

Of course, all of this preparation is there for the “just in case.”

The choreography and tick-tock precision of a visit with a monarch is nothing new, it is expected and by most accounts, appreciated. What matters is how each first lady chooses to embrace the protocol that could determine their success.

Biden’s predecessor, Melania Trump, was, according to many people who worked with her, a stickler for the details, paying close attention to every part of a foreign visit, every step, pause, program, entrance and exit. (It was her husband Donald Trump’s irreverence to some of this study that often led to gaffes, such as when he walked ahead of Queen Elizabeth during his visit to Windsor Castle, or when he walked ahead of his wife on the tarmac after deplaning in Israel, causing her to swat his hand away when he realized his oversight.)
Who can forget then-first lady Michelle Obama’s 2009 meeting with the Queen, wherein she placed her arm around the monarch’s shoulder, creating a kerfuffle? The move was pure Obama, friendly and instinctual, a sign of warmth and friendship — and the Queen reciprocated with an arm, albeit awkwardly, around Obama’s waist. No matter the intent, Obama’s gesture was taken by the British press as an affront. Touching the Queen is verboten, unless of course she touches you first.

“I think Dr. Biden is seeking to be far more accessible and relatable than most of her predecessors, with the exception of Michelle Obama who had a similar approach,” says historian Kate Andersen Brower, author of “First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies,” of Biden’s first overseas visit as first lady.

“She is not an imperial first lady, like Nancy Reagan — who was so involved in her husband’s administration that she helped orchestrate President Reagan’s first meeting in Geneva with [former Russian leader Mikhail] Gorbachev. I would not expect Dr. Biden to be doing anything like that.”

Biden’s schedule does not have her joining the President for his two stops after England, first to Brussels, Belgium, for NATO meetings, and then to Geneva, Switzerland, for what is likely to be a contentious meeting with Vladimir Putin.

“Dr. Biden will be bringing a softer message. She’ll be resetting the American image abroad as much as the President does,” says Brower, adding, “I think she’ll stay away from politics.”

Flexing her independence

US President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden make their way to board Marine One before departing from The Ellipse, near the White House, in Washington, DC on June 9, 2021.

Biden may stay away from the tenuous issues that face her husband on this European trip, but she is carving time to endorse her own agenda. A White House official…

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