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Live-In Extended First Families: Trouble?

In this July 28, 2008 file photo, Marian Robinson, the mother-in-law of then Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama D-Ill., listens as her daughter Michelle speaks at a Women for Obama luncheon in Chicago. Robinson is moving into the White House at least temporarily to join Michelle Obama and the two children, transition officials said Friday. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)
AP Photo/M. Spencer Green
When the new first family moves into the White House, they'll be joined by Michelle Obama's mother.

And, while President-elect Barack Obama and Marian Robinson seem to get along very well, CBS News correspondent Senior White House Correspondent Bill Plante notes that extended presidential families living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue have ruffled some feathers in the past.

It used to be fairly common for presidents to have brothers, sisters, and other extended family members take up residence with them in Washington, Plante points out.

Robinson won't be the first presidential mother-in-law to call the executive mansion home.

Madge Wallace, President Truman's mother-in-law lived there and was infamous for constantly nagging her powerful son-in-law.

"Madge Wallace never really cared for Harry Truman," says presidential historian Douglas Brinkley. "She thought, if he made it to the White House, it was only because her daughter, Bess, was so good and yet, there she was, living in the White House, and he was forced to endure her."

Then there are the live-in presidential brothers who behaved badly, from beer swilling Billy Carter to convicted cocaine dealer Roger Clinton. And then there was Sam Johnson, who was kept at the White house by his brother, Lyndon, to keep Sam out of trouble.

"As (Sam) would enter the gates on the South Lawn coming back (to the White House), he would hold his hands up as if manacled, to show he was going back into the prison," says another presidential historian, Bonnie Angelo. "They were happy to have him stay at the White House so they could keep an eye on him."

As for presidential children, we all remember the cute family snapshots of Caroline Kennedy and her brother, John-John. But when those presidential kids are teenagers, like Jenna Bush, daughter of the current president, the photos aren't always flattering. Take, for instance, a salute she once gave the press -- sticking her tongue out. And some first kids, such as Amy Carter, never seemed to enjoy being cooped up in the White House, perhaps, Plante speculated with tongue palnted firmly in cheek, because she was too young to hang out with her hip older brother, Chip.

"Chip was deeply into the rock 'n' roll culture," says Brinkley. "He was friends with Hunter Thompson. He had dated Linda Ronstadt, and Willie Nelson got into the White House via Chip and got to smoke pot on the roof (there).

Once, Plante says, President Ford's son, Jack, was almost caught "entertaining" a date in a White House bedroom as his mother was giving Barbara Walters a tour.

"Suddenly," says Angelou, "he heard the recognizable voice, not only of his mother, but of Barbara Walters ... so he did some fast scrambling to take care of whatever he did with that young lady so she was not discovered!"

All-in-all, says Brinkley, presidents, like the rest of us, don't really have a say in choosing their families: "Extended families are a bit of a problem for a president. They have enough keeping their own game in order without trying to shepherd in all the black sheep in the family. On the other hand, they wouldn't be human if they didn't have extended family."

And, Plante concludes, as the old saying goes, you can pick a lot of things, but you can't pick your family. Still, the Obama family arrangement seems to be OK -- pretty much "no drama," as he prefers. By all indications, he gets along really well with his mother-in-law, and his children are too young to embarass him!



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