Advice to Second Spouse Doug Emhoff

Dear Mr. Emhoff, or Doug, if that’s okay:

Congratulations on becoming the first Second Man.

Just as Second Ladies found there are things the Second Spouse MUST do, so they learned there are others they CANNOT do.

I know.

First as a journalist, I reported on First and Second Ladies. Then in this city full of peculiar jobs and titles, I became top aide (more grandly called in D.C. fashion “chief of staff”) to one vice president’s spouse, and advised two others.

Here are some thoughts of what awaits you.

As the first male Second Spouse, you have a unique status. For one, it’s likely no one will snipe at your Inauguration outfit, your hair style, or whether or not you wore a hat at the swearing in.

There’s already been discussion whether you will advocate for a particular cause. Second ladies, at least in modern times, have had “good deed” projects. Nancy Pence focused on art therapy; Dr. Jill Biden helped military families; Lynne Cheney promoted American history; Tipper Gore advocated for mental health awareness; Marilyn Quayle focused on disaster relief and breast cancer treatment and prevention; Barbara Bush fought illiteracy; and Joan Mondale promoted the arts.

There’s no reason the Second Man can’t do the same. You’ll have a huge publicity platform to bring attention to a worthy cause, and according to New Yorker magazine, you are considering working on food insecurity or access to the judicial system.

After three decades as a lawyer, you’ve resigned from your practice and will teach entertainment law at Georgetown University Law Center. You’ll be following the lead of Second Ladies Biden and Pence, both of whom continued to teach while their husbands served as vice presidents. The difference is that both had teaching jobs before coming to Washington.

Still, it wasn’t easy. Before they got the green light to teach, they went through intensive Administration lawyering on ethical issues. Could their teaching present a conflict of interest or an “appearance” of favoritism? Would they be advocating for a special interest?

Like the President, Vice President, and First Lady, you’ll have round-the-clock Secret Service protection. You — or more likely your staff — will have to tell your assigned agents well in advance every “movement,” as it is called, that you will make out of the Vice President’s Residence. Everywhere you go, they go.

You’ll get a staff. Typically, it has included a chief of staff, who runs things for you; a personal aide, dubbed “body person;” a scheduler, (who keeps the Secret Service up-to-date on your every “movement;” a press secretary; perhaps issue staff, who are specialists on your volunteer topic; and a social secretary to oversee events at the Vice President’s Residence.

You and your staff will have an office at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, adjacent to the White House. Your social secretary will be at the Vice President’s Residence, where you and Vice President-elect Harris will live. Unlike the White House, it’s not open for public tours. But don’t think you can do anything you want to the house. It belongs to the U.S. Navy.

Want to remodel a bathroom? Or don’t like government-issue furniture and wish to buy a particular antique? The Navy has to approve and budget it. If it approves but doesn’t have the money, then you have to raise it. But forget about tapping your wealthy friends. You have to engage a Vice President’s Residence Foundation to do extra projects. And expect at the next election to show that no donation resulted in subsequent favorable treatment of a contributor.

You won’t get tourists, but there will be no shortage of guests. In past Administrations, Vice Presidents both initiated and have been called by the White House to host breakfasts, lunches, dinners and receptions with foreign and domestic officials. Think big Christmas parties. They are expected D.C. events, where you will “grip and grin” for hours in receiving lines as photos are taken.

Start thinking now about trinkets — valuable or not — with the VP seal — special gifts –that you and the Vice President will hand out. Paperweights, Christmas ornaments, letter openers, boxes, scarves: anything you can think of guests will treasure.

You’ll have a unique platform, and you may decide like many previous Second Spouses to write a book. Why not? But don’t think you will get rich from it. The money will likely have to go to a nonprofit. That’s what happened to Lynne Cheney and Dr. Jill Biden who both wrote children’s books while Second Ladies.

Lastly, please do something about the nick-name. The Secret Service has dubbed Second Ladies with the unfortunate acronym SLOTUS — or in White House-speak: Second Lady of the United States. Once you’re Second Man, I hope you’ll get something better than SMOTUS.

Good luck, and have fun!

Marguerite Hoxie Sullivan

International media development consultant. Previously journalist, assistant to a U.S. Vice President and U.S. governor Cabinet official; think-tank executive.