“I’m going to sit at the President of the United States’ desk,” Piñera said, almost daring anyone to challenge his breach of protocol.
But Obama and the rest of the room stood back as Piñera calmly walked around to Obama’s desk, sat in the chair and calmly rested his arms on the Resolute desk, which has been used by a majority of presidents including George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
The Chilean president nonchalantly paused for a moment as cameras went off, smiling at the room and looking every bit as presidential behind the Oval Office desk as Obama stood back with the rest of the room laughing and looking not so amused.
Later the Chilean Minister of Foreign Affairs Alfredo Moreno Charme asked Obama if any other non-American presidents had sat behind the Resolute desk.
“This is the only one,” Obama replied back.
It’s very possible that Obama is correct in his belief about other presidents sitting behind the desk. Former White House Press Secretary Dana Perino responded via Twitter to a question about whether she ever sat behind her boss’s desk.
“The Five” co-host even refused to sit in the replica chair at the newly opened George W. Bush Presidential Center, believing that even the mock seat is off-limits to those who aren’t the American commander-in-chief.
Apparently Piñera is known in his native Chile for his shenanigans; the president’s antics are called “Piñeri-cosas.” Piñera even tried to justify his decision to commandeer the desk, claiming that because his daughter was born in the United States and he attended Harvard University that he deserved to sit at the Resolute Desk.
“Obviously, we’ve got strong relationships throughout the hemisphere, but the relationship between the United States and Chile is as strong and as important as any of the relationships that we have,” Obama said in a press release after his visit with Piñera.
Obama went on to praise the Chilean economy under Piñera’s leadership, emphasizing the strong bond between the two presidents.
“President Piñera’s outstanding leadership has continued and enhanced this process, and he and I have had an excellent relationship in a number of multilateral settings,” Obama said.
Update: the video has since been removed by the user from YouTube.