STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
When the president staged his return to the White House on Monday night, he was a patient infected with coronavirus walking into a building where many people work. It's a place where many other people have tested positive. The president's adviser, Stephen Miller, is among the latest. Well, what does this mean for the staff? And by that, I mean the permanent staff, the nonpolitical staff, who work in the White House. Kate Andersen Brower is the author of "The Residence," for which she interviewed more than 50 White House staff. And she's on the line. Good morning.
KATE ANDERSON BROWER: Good morning, Steve. Thanks for having me.
INSKEEP: So I guess we're talking about all kinds of people here - right? - ranging from people who just kind of - staff, the residents, maids and that sort of thing, all the way through to, well, what? I mean, there must be every kind of job in there.
ANDERSON BROWER: That's right. There are about 90 of them. So you have butlers, ushers, painters, engineers, plumbers. It's a huge universe of people that most people don't even know exists at the White House.
INSKEEP: And, obviously, they're all classed as essential employees in this circumstance.
ANDERSON BROWER: Well, the White House released a statement yesterday where they said there are eight to 10 of them working in the residence on a rotating shift. And, normally, there are several more in the residence. So these are the people who have direct contact with the president and the first lady. They're the people you'd be the most concerned about. And, primarily, they're the butlers and the housekeepers on the second floor of the White House.
INSKEEP: What precautions, if any, are they taking or allowed to take?
ANDERSON BROWER: We know, according to the White House, they are wearing PPA - PPE, rather, personal protective equipment and surgical masks. The White House even issued a statement saying they are - have a well-being consultant who is available to talk to them. But this is still putting them at risk. And these are people who feel a great deal of pressure to work. They have mortgages to pay. So it is reckless to put them in this position.
INSKEEP: When you say they feel pressure to work, they have mortgages to pay, is this a high-paying job to be part of the permanent staff of the White House?
ANDERSON BROWER: No, it really is not. These are federal government employees. They serve at the pleasure of the president. They have to serve a certain number of years in order to get their pensions. So they can make anywhere between $30,000 and $40,000 to, you know, six figures, over $100,000 - these are the people who are the executive pastry chef, the head housekeeper. But the majority of them do not make a huge deal of money.
And they are so dedicated to the president, whoever the president is. They serve from one administration to the next, regardless of party. And, you know, I've interviewed several of them in the past couple of days, several former workers, and they're very concerned for their friends who are still working in the White House.
INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about that because there have been news reports in recent days about members of the Secret Service - that at least some of them are very unhappy. They're asking, why does the president keep putting us at risk by disregarding basic safety precautions? Are you hearing the same kinds of concern from the residence staff or at least from the former staff you're able to talk with?
ANDERSON BROWER: Yes. And two of the former staff served during the Trump administration - who I've spoken with. The other two were there during the Obamas. And all four of them said, this is a terrible position to put our friends in; we are losing sleep over it. This is not that big of a house. It's an old house. It needs upkeep. And you need to have somebody there to serve the president. So it's really the butlers, I'm hearing, and the housekeepers who are at the greatest risk.
INSKEEP: What was the alternative, though? I mean, he is the president, and someone needs to take care of him.
ANDERSON BROWER: Well, the alternative would have been staying at Walter Reed and not coming back so soon, while he's still battling the coronavirus.
INSKEEP: One other thing just to be clear on - a lot of these are people of color, is that right?
ANDERSON BROWER: That is the case for the butler staff. It's historically been a job that African Americans - many African Americans have held. It's a very prestigious job, obviously. And they have great respect for the institution of the presidency.
INSKEEP: Kate Anderson Brower, who also has a forthcoming children's book, on "The Residence." Thanks so much.
ANDERSON BROWER: Thanks so much, Steve.
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