print-only banner
The White House Skip Main Navigation

Ask the White House
Privacy Policy

Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Ambassador Donald Ensenat
Ambassador Donald Ensenat
U.S. Chief of Protocol

January 18, 2007

Ambassador Donald Ensenat
Good afternoon, and thank you for having me. We are gearing up for another busy year in the Office of the Chief of Protocol. In 2006, we supported nearly 330 visits of chiefs of state, heads of government and other dignitaries to the United States, arranged 28 Presidential delegations, accredited 43 new foreign Ambassadors and accompanied the President on seven overseas trips. Our office also manages the President’s Guest House, better known as Blair House, proposes and purchases gifts to give foreign leaders on behalf of the President and First Lady, and arranges official entertainment for the Secretary of State. I look forward to answering your questions. Let’s get started…

Pearson, from Knoxville, TN writes:
What is your favorite room in Blair House, and will it ever be open for public tours?

Donald Ensenat
The President's Guest House, better known as Blair House, has a wonderful interactive website, You can take a virtual tour of the house and pick out your own favorite room. To me, they are all beautifully done. The Blair House is unique in the world. No other country that I am aware of has an official guest house for visiting heads of state that is as hospitable - and is right across the street from the President's home, The White House.

Daniel, from Lakeville, CT writes:
How far in advance are foreign trips by President Bush planned out? And, since President Bush rides in a special limousine in foreign countries, is that limousine from America or is that provided by the host country? Thanks.

Donald Ensenat
There have been several questions about the limousines and other "assets" used by the President when he travels overseas. For obvious security reasons, I can't get into too much detail. The answer to your specific question is, yes, the Presidential helicopter, whose call sign is Marine One, is transported from the United States by Air Force cargo plane. The Presidential limousine is also transported to stops overseas where secure transportation is needed. Sometimes we use transportation that is already in the country, either military or in our embassy motor pool. We never use foreign "assets" overseas.

Some foreign leaders do the same with their car when they visit the United States. Our Secret Service provides a security detail to all visiting heads of state or government and use Secret Service vehicles most of the time.

Alex, from Florida writes:
How much work goes into organizing one of the President's trips? How much time do you start planning in advance?

Donald Ensenat
Alex, as you can see from my previous answers, there is a lot of organization involved when the President travels overseas - itineraries, transportation, hotels, and in the post 9/11 world, a substantial increase in security preparations. Generally speaking, planning and organizing a Presidential trip overseas begins three months in advance. In the immediate weeks before a trip, the preparation goes into high gear. I travel with the President on his overseas trips and when we "hit the ground," everything is always organized and flows smoothly. Obviously that takes a tremendous amount of staff work, both before and during the trip.

Bradley, from Bethesda, Maryland writes:
Since January of 2001, how many visits (bilateral or multilateral) to Chiefs of State abroad has President Bush made and how many visits have other Chiefs of State made to the President in the US (in bilateral or multilateral meetings)?

Donald Ensenat
This is a good question. The Visits statistics are staggering to me, who has served the President since 2001. The President has visited 80 countries. The President's administration, including Secretary of State and Vice President, has received 2,190 visits of foreign leaders, foreign minister and above. The Office of the Chief of Protocol arranges all these visits from foreign leaders. This is a record number of foreign visitors.

Marcus, from Princeton, New Jersey writes:
Ambassador Ensenat, I understand Her Majesty the Queen will be making a state visit to the US to mark the 400th anniversary of the Jamestown Colony. What sort of accomodations are given to Her Majesty when she stays at the White House? When was her last overnight stay at the White House? Regards, Marcus

Donald Ensenat
Yes, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and HRH Prince Phillip will make a State Visit to the United States in May of this year. It coincides with the 400th Anniversary of Jamestown. The Blair House has been offered to The Queen and it is my understanding that she will probably accept. Since Blair House is part of the Chief of Protocol's office, we are very much looking forward to hosting her.

Tom, from Hanover, Pennsylvania writes:
How does White House protocol differ for world leaders from various parts of the world? Or is it pretty consistent?

Donald Ensenat
Good question, Tom. I have a counterpart in every capital around the world, who is usually called either the Chief of Protocol or Director of Protocol. When I travel with the President overseas, my primary responsibility is to coordinate the details of our visit with the host country's chief of protocol. And he or she usually does the same when their leader visits the United States. Therefore, I have gotten to know, worked with, and become friends of most of my counterparts around the world. I have never had anything but an excellent working relationship, whether visiting them or their visiting us, with all of my counterparts.

What we do is actually a very old profession. Protocol comes from ancient Greek - "proto" meaning first, and "collon" meaning glued. The name comes from the ancient Greek's requirement that all diplomatic dispatches have a summary glued to the outside of the case - sort of the ancient equivalent of today's "executive summary." A little factoid you might find of interest.

Nick, from St. Louis, MO writes:
Do Barney and Miss Beazley ever travel internationally with the President and Mrs. Bush? If they do how do they avoid the quarantine rules most countries have for animals?

Donald Ensenat
No, Barney, the President's Scottish terrier, and Miss Beazley, Mrs. Bush's Scottish terrier, do not travel internationally. The extent of their travel is to the President's ranch in Texas and to Camp David.

Jack, from New Orleans writes:
I see from your bio that you are from New Orleans. Me too. Do you ever serve creole at the Blair House?

Donald Ensenat
Good question, mon amis. We occasionally like to put a little New Orleans "spice" in the Blair House cuisine.

Tom, from NY writes:
What is the best gift given to The President? Have you kept any for yourself?

Donald Ensenat
It is a custom for a visiting leader to give gifts to the President and Mrs. Bush, as well as to the American officials who have assisted in the preparations for their visit. We do the same when the President visits overseas. The Gift Officers in my office propose and purchase gifts for the President to give when he visits overseas, and receives and distributes the gifts that foreign leaders give when they visit. These exchanges are generally done "protocol-to-protocol" meaning the American and foreign gift officers arrange to meet during the visit and exchange the gifts. Occasionally, the President or the visiting leader want to give their gift personally. One of the most memorable is when the President gave then Prime Minister Koizumi of Japan a jukebox with 50's and 60's rock and roll records because the Prime Minister is a huge Elvis Presley and rock and roll fan. The President also took the Prime Minister to Graceland - one of the more unusual visits by a foreign leader.

Thomas, from Middlebury, Vermont writes:
How much interaction do you have with the President in planning his visits? Does he help plan as well, or does he mostly follow what has been arranged?

Donald Ensenat
As you can imagine, the President's schedule is incredibly hectic. There is no way he can get in to the nitty gritty details of his overseas visits. That's what the Protocol team and the Advance team, as well as Secret Service and the military, do. The President does personally approve the schedule - where he goes, when he goes, and what he does when he gets there. When we arrive, it is all pre-arranged and organized. My job is to greet the President with our hosts when the plane arrives and to travel with the President through the schedule, working with my counterpart to make sure that the schedule flows smoothly and to "iron out" any glitches.

Matt, from Cuba City, Wi writes:
What is you responsibilities as the U.S. Chief of Protocol?

Donald Ensenat
Good question, Matt. My job is probably one of the most misunderstood jobs in the government. Somehow it has the image of being in charge of table settings at dinner parties and good etiquette. That is the Social Secretary, not the Chief of Protocol. We are diplomats, and the Chief of Protocol is an Ambassador, appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate, to handle three principle areas of responsibility: the Ambassadors to Washington, the President's foreign visitors, and the President's visits overseas. As you can see from some of my previous answers, our Visits agenda has been very hectic. But we also spend a great deal of time managing and liaising with the foreign diplomatic corps in Washington and throughout the United States. There are 182 embassies in Washington, and including their consulates in other U.S. cities, the staff and all their family members, there are 148,000 persons in the United States with some form of diplomatic status. It is our office's responsibility to do all the paperwork to register and accredit these diplomats - in itself a huge task.

Peter, from Washington writes:
We haven't heard much about any foreign travel planned by the president this year. Other than the usual round of G-8 and APEC summits, are there any potential overseas trips percolating for 2007? I read somewhere that he wants to go to Africa this year. Is that possible?

Donald Ensenat
It is early in the year. Our travel overseas for the rest of 2007 is still in the planning. Yes, the President will attend the G-8 Summit, in Germany in June of this year. There will probably be at least 3 other overseas trips. And Mrs. Bush, who is currently in France, may have her separate overseas trips.

Ambassador Donald Ensenat
Thank you for your questions today. I hope you have a better understanding of what we do in the Office of the Chief of Protocol and encourage you to visit our website at to learn more. Stay tuned for another exciting year.