Last week, the President of the United States again lamented one of his most commonly referenced beefs.
“You turn on the shower — if you’re like me, you can’t wash your beautiful hair properly,” said President Donald Trump at an Ohio Whirlpool manufacturing plant visit. “‘Please come out,’ The water — it drips, right?”
On Wednesday, the Energy Department proposed new rollbacks on regulations limiting household water use. Since the 1990s, federal laws mandated showerheads shouldn’t emit more than 2.5 gallons of water per minute, in order to preserve resources. To put it simply, the new proposals would allow not each showerhead that allotment, but essentially each nozzle. So if a showerhead has three or four nozzles, as many modern components do, each one can produce 2.5 gallons of water per minute.
Perhaps this will help soothe Trump’s ongoing battle with water flow, and prevent him going on tangents at White House events, such as this one last month: “So, showerheads — you take a shower, the water doesn’t come out. You wash your hands, the water doesn’t come out. So what do you do? You just stand there longer, or you take a shower longer? Because my hair — I don’t know about you, but it has to be perfect. Perfect.”
It is not just 2020 that has brought out his ire against weak water. Trump last year railed against it at a roundtable with business leaders.
“We have a situation where we’re looking very strongly at sinks and showers and other elements of bathrooms where you turn the faucet on — and in areas where there’s tremendous amounts of water, where the water rushes out to sea because you could never handle it, and you don’t get any water,” the President said. “You turn on the faucet and you don’t get any water. They take a shower and water comes dripping out. Just dripping out, very quietly dripping out.”
It can sometimes be challenging to discern whether Trump’s issue is due to his obsession with achieving his ideal hairdo (he coifs his famous swoop-over look himself, according to those with knowledge of his styling habits), or the actual water that does (or does not, in this case) wet his hair. Based on indicators, it seems there is a case for the latter.
The White House has had a history of plumbing woes, mostly based on age and wear and tear. A building as massive as the People’s House, approximately 55,000 square feet, and constructed before indoor plumbing even existed, is bound to have challenges. Pipes displaced and updated throughout the decades, lavatories added based on the various needs of individual first family preferences, all have inevitably caused backups.
There are, for example, 15 bathrooms alone on the second and third floors of the Trump’s private residence — six on the floor where the President sleeps, 9 on the floor that includes the Solarium, the gym, the game room, the first lady’s private hair and makeup salon and several guest bedrooms.
One might assume, based upon the continued, public complaints, that the main problem is the fault of the shower in Trump’s own master bathroom, part of the President’s suite. Perhaps he didn’t like the pressure from the shower that the Obamas had in there before him, which was also specially installed — something the two presidents have in common is the desire for specific shower heads.
In 2017, then-White House chief usher Stephen Rochon told CNN that the staff had to “scramble” to find the “perfect rain shower head” prior to President Barack Obama’s arrival.
“One thing we that we were very aware of is the new president wanted a special shower head,” said Rochon. The White House did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.
Plumbing over time
Obama, and Trump for that matter, are not the only presidents with plumbing peccadillos.
John Quincy Adams insisted a pump from the well at the Treasury building be installed at the White House, not for the purposes of bathing — that was what the Potomac River was for — but so that he, an avid gardener, could look after his plants and flowers, according to materials provided by the White House Historical Association.
Andrew Jackson, in 1833, was the first president to actually put the water into the White House building, ordering it be pulled from a newly purchased spring near Franklin Square in downtown Washington, DC, and piped to the White House, but it wasn’t until Franklin Pierce that permanent bathing fixtures with running hot and cold water were added in the East Wing.
Prior to Pierce, Martin Van Buren, apparently a stickler for bathing apparatus, had copper tubs lugged to the residence for he and his family, according to White House historians; the task of filling them with hot water fell to the housekeepers.
Chester Arthur wanted to enlarge the private presidential bathroom, which he did by combining two smaller, more public ones, wrote the former chief usher of the White House in a 1934 story in the Saturday Evening Post.
A comprehensive modern update to White House plumbing didn’t occur until the massive renovation overseen by Harry S. Truman, from 1948-1952. When Truman moved back into the White House from across the street at Blair House, where he and his family resided during the construction, his new bathtub reportedly had a hidden message carved in the glass on the backside, according to a 1989 article in Plumbing and Manufacturing magazine. The message read, “In this tub bathes the man whose heart is always clean and serves his people truthfully.”
Lyndon B. Johnson’s shower woes
Despite the varying degrees, and personal grooming habits, of past presidents, none was quite as consumed with showering than Lyndon B. Johnson. Johnson, it seems, could give Trump a run for his money when it came to complaints about water pressure.
Kate Andersen Brower, a CNN commentator and author of “The Residence,” said the two presidents do have similarities in personalities, and that while Trump continues to emote about water during a global pandemic, “Johnson did the same during Vietnam.”
“He was an egomaniac who was preoccupied with his shower obsession,” said Brower.
At the time, the White House’s plumbing foreman was a man named Reds Arrington, who, Brower writes in “The Residence,” was “tortured” by LBJ’s obsession with the White House water pressure, which he wanted “like a fire hose,” and temperature, which he demanded be as hot as possible.
“When (Johnson) found out that a new shower for the President would require laying new pipe and putting in a new pump, Johnson demanded that the military pay for it. The project, which cost tens of thousands of dollars, was paid for with classified funds that were supposed to be earmarked for security,” wrote Brower, who adds Johnson would still call Reds and yell his displeasure, one time bellowing: “If I can move ten thousand troops in a day, you can certainly fix the bathroom any way I want it!”
Johnson’s bizarre shower also included mirrors installed on the ceiling. When Richard Nixon moved in “he took one look at the elaborate set-up and said, ‘Get rid of this stuff,’ ” Brower said.
It’s difficult to say whether Trump will ever find satisfactory levels of water pressure, only time will tell, but America will likely hear about it.
Trump has not restricted his concentration to showers, either, focusing at times on what he calls “low-flow” toilets. Many times in public comments, he has said flushing just isn’t what it used to be.
“People are flushing toilets 10 times, 15 times, as opposed to once,” said the President at a White House event last December.
Though it is unclear whom exactly the prolific flushers are in Trump’s mind, he has actually been noted for his pride of White House bathrooms, according to a story published by The New York Times in 2017: “Mr. Trump is naturally garrulous, and loves to give White House tours. He has an odd affinity for showing off bathrooms, including one he renovated near the Oval Office.”
The new water pressure regulations announced this week are the first indicator Trump’s long national nightmare over showerheads could be coming to an end.
“President Trump promised the American people that he would reduce onerous federal regulations on the American consumer, and this proposed rulemaking on showerheads does just that,” Energy Department spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes told CNN in a statement.
If adopted, Hynes said, the rule would allow “Americans — not Washington bureaucrats — to choose what kind of showerheads they have in their homes.”
And with those showerheads, even Trump might feel better about the efforts he puts in to achieve what he calls his “beautiful” hair.
“Oh, I try like hell to hide that bald spot, folks. I work hard at it,” said Trump in 2018 at the Conservative Political Action Conference. “It doesn’t look bad. Hey, we are hanging in, we are hanging in, we are hanging in there. Right? Together, we are hanging in.”
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct the year in which Andrew Jackson ordered water to be brought into the White House.