Melania Trump may have truly wanted to pay respects to Rosalynn Carter, and join other first ladies and Presidents Joe Biden and Bill Clinton at a public tribute service for the wife of the 39th president, Jimmy Carter.
But as the wife of Donald Trump, Melania also knew that she would have “drawn attention to herself” if she skipped the service over concerns that her presence could be politically awkward, according to CNN national correspondent Kristen Holmes. It’s generally known that the former presidents and their wives are not fans of Donald Trump. Jimmy Carter, in particular, blasted Trump as an “unscrupulous politician” for his allegedly illegal efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
“She knew other first ladies were going to be there,” Holmes said, ahead of live coverage of Rosalynn Carter’s service. “She knew it would be more of a thing, if she didn’t attend.”
Rosalynn Carter died Nov. 19 at age 96. She was a member of a unique group of women: presidential first ladies.
(L-R) Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former US First Lady Laura Bush, former US First Lady Michelle Obama, and former US First Lady Melania Trump arrive for a tribute service for former US First Lady Rosalynn Carter, at Glenn Memorial Church in Atlanta, Georgia, on November 28, 2023. Carter died on November 19, aged 96, just two days after joining her husband in hospice care at their house in Plains. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP) (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)
On Tuesday, Melania Trump joined Michelle Obama, Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton, as they all entered the Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church on the campus of Emory University in Atlanta. Melania Trump walked somewhat ahead of the others and took her seat at the far end of the front row. Next to her sat Michelle Obama. Also sitting in the front row were Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton and Jill and Joe Biden.
Jimmy Carter, 99, also attended the service and was brought in by wheelchair. Appearing thin and in frail health, he has been in hospice care since February, but his family said he would not have missed the service.
Melania Trump still managed to draw some attention to herself as she wore a white, black and gray tweed coat, covering a black dress. While the coat was funeral appropriate, it made her visually stand out as she sat in the front row of the church with the other first ladies, members of the Carter family and Vice President Kamala Harris, who all were dressed in the darkest black.
It didn’t take long for that lighter-colored coat to draw online comments from Trump critics, one of whom said, “Forever out of place.”
Standing out has not been something Melania Trump has tried to do over the past three years, Holmes said. Since she and her husband left the White House in January 2021 under a cloud of bitterness and ignominy, she has mostly steered clear of her husband’s campaign events, as he runs for president a third time. She also has not accompanied him to his court appearances for his multiple criminal and civil cases.
Melania Trump’s presence at the service comes after her husband mocked Jimmy Carter the day after Rosalynn Carter entered hospice and the day before she died. At a campaign rally in Iowa, Trump appeared to hit back at Carter’s longtime disapproval of him while criticizing Biden. Trump said that “the happiest person anywhere in this country right now is Jimmy Carter because his administration looked brilliant compared to these clowns,” USA Today reported. “Compared to Biden, Jimmy Carter was a brilliant, brilliant president.”
The seating arrangements Tuesday kept Melania Trump some distance from the Bidens. The former model notoriously broke a nearly 70-year tradition when she didn’t invite Jill Biden, as the incoming first lady, to “a tea and tour” of the White House after her husband defeated Trump in the 2020 election. Melania reportedly didn’t uphold the “tea and tour” tradition, at the behest of her husband.
At the service, speaker Judy Woodruff, the retired TV news journalist, briefly referred to the political and personal differences among the presidents and first ladies seated together at the service. Woodruff humorously said about the late first lady: “Rosalynn would be so proud to see that she brought all of you together on this day.”
Another speaker, Jason Carter also spoke to the first ladies assembled to honor his grandmother, noting “the remarkable sisterhood” they all shared. As the Carter family prepared for the series of public and private events to honor Rosalynn Carter this week, they reportedly kept this sisterhood in mind. They said that’s one of the reasons that Rosalynn Carter insisted that all first ladies, including Donald Trump’s wife, would be invited to attend her service.
Rosalynn Carter was “a gracious person” who “would treat everybody with respect,” including Melania Trump, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter’s son, James E. “Chip” Carter III, told the Washington Post last week.