CBS News’ White House correspondent Mark Knoller tweeted this morning that President Barack Obama did not return a salute to a Marine before boarding Marine One on the South Lawn:
Indeed, the press pool report notes the same thing:
In-town pool report #1
South Lawn departure for Annapolis
Under gray skies and intermittent drizzle, President Obama boarded Marine One at 9:30 a.m. EDT in an open press event.
A few White House regulars were atwitter (and on Twitter) when the President walked directly up the steps of Marine One without saluting the Marine on duty. He soon came out of the helicopter, walked down the steps, shook hands with the Marine and engaged in a brief conversation.
Here’s a photo sequence of the president’s departure Friday morning:
Now, you might be confused by the second photo in the sequence, as it does show the president offering some sort of salute. Even the Associated Press caption to the photo says, “President Barack Obama salutes at the top of the step as he boards Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House.”
So what’s that about? We contacted the journalist — Rick Dunham of the Houston Chronicle — who filed the report and he told us while the president may have offered some salute at the top, he definitely broke with normal and accepted procedure.
In fact, video of the series of events seems to show that the salute was offered to someone already on the chopper. Watch via ABC’s footage of the event:
That all raises the question: Even if the president did completely forget to return a salute are they obliged to even do so? Is this even a potential protocol gaffe like the controversy that surrounded Obama recently requesting two Marines hold umbrellas during a White House press conference, which some said put them at odds with uniform code (we showed that the president can make such requests, by the way)?
In 2008, David Alexander with Reuters reported that presidents saluting is actually a “thorny debate.” Alexander wrote that the military has long had a practice of saluting the commander in chief, but the president saluting back didn’t start until President Ronald Reagan.
“Dwight Eisenhower, a former five-star general, did not return military salutes while president. Nor had other presidents,” Alexander noted.
Carey Winfrey, the editor of Smithsonian magazine who was in the Marine Corps, has more on the history of military salutes in a 2009 New York Times article. The piece discusses whether presidents should salute as Marines are taught never to salute out of uniform and he didn’t quite regard the president’s suits a uniform. Ultimately, Winfrey called the president’s salute “impeccable in every way.” Here’s more on Reagan’s salutes that started it all:
Presidents have long been saluted, but they began returning salutes relatively recently. Ronald Reagan was thought to be the first, in 1981. He had sought advice on the matter from Gen. Robert Barrow, commandant of the Marine Corps. According to John Kline, then Mr. Reagan’s military aide and today a member of Congress from Minnesota, General Barrow told the president that as commander in chief he could salute anybody he wished. And so it began.
Mr. Reagan’s successors continued the practice, and I continued to be conflicted — believing that when it comes to salutes (and one or two other matters), presidents deserved to be cut some slack, but also feeling a little uneasy about the whole thing.
Alexander for Reuters noted historian John Lukacs writing in 2003 that the president saluting “represents an exaggeration of the president’s military role.”
Let us know what you think of presidents returning salutes by taking our poll:
Update 1: The latest round of press pool report notes states that Obama did salute a group of the Marines before heading back onto Marine One for his return trip to D.C. after delivering the commencement address to the graduates of the U.S. Naval Academy.
Update 2: The press pool report’s latest update states that when the president touched down around 1 p.m. ET, Obama again made sure to salute the Marine waiting for him at the bottom of the choppers stair’s.