By Sam Gillette (People)
First Lady Melania Trump is celebrating her 49th birthday.
On Friday, the White House honored the first lady with a tribute on Twitter. “Happy Birthday, @FLOTUS!” the post was captioned along with an image of Mrs. Trump sitting alone on a sofa during a bilateral meeting between Donald Trump and Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis in the Oval Office.
The photo, which was taken in early March, also shows nearly 20 photographers circling the couch to take pictures of the president and the Czech prime minister.
But the White House’s choice of photo had many celebrating for another reason. The photo of Mrs. Trump quickly turned into a viral meme with many Photoshopping Vladimir Putin next to the first lady and others doctoring the image with other well-known faces, including Kellyanne Conway.
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Trump has yet to post a birthday tribute to his wife on social media. However, the day before, the president sent out a mass email to supporters asking for one million signatures for his wife’s birthday card. (He employed this same technique last year.)
“I need your help,” read the campaign email on Trump’s behalf. “Our FANTASTIC First Lady Melania’s birthday is right around the corner, and I want to do something special for her because she is so special to me.”
It continued: “We all know that Melania is an INCREDIBLE wife, mother, and First Lady. Help me show her how much the American people love her!”
But the gesture won’t erase his history of birthday blunders.
Last year, the president said he didn’t get Mrs. Trump a gift because he was too busy.
The president made the comment when he called in to Fox & Friends to give the first lady a shout out on her birthday.
“I picked a very, very special day because it’s Melania’s birthday,” Trump said at the time. “So I said, ‘Let’s do it on Melania’s birthday.’ So happy birthday to Melania.”
Asked what he got his wife for her special day, Trump grew defensive, saying, “Well, I better not get into that because I may get in trouble” before admitting, “Maybe I didn’t get her so much.”
“I tell you what, she has done — I got her a beautiful card. You know, I’m very busy to be running out looking for presents, okay!” he continued. “But I got her a beautiful card and some beautiful flowers.”
Later in the call, Trump admitted for the first time that his personal attorney Michael Cohen represented him in making a $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels in the final days before the 2016 election. Daniels has said the deal was sealed to keep her quiet about an affair she claims she had with Trump in 2006. (Trump has denied the affair.)
Mrs. Trump addressed her husband’s alleged affairs for the first time during a 2018 interview with ABC News, saying the claims are “not concern and focus of mine.”
“I’m a mother and a first lady, and I have much more important things to think about and to do,” she told ABC News’ chief national affairs correspondent Tom Llamas. Later in the interview, Mrs. Trump confirmed that she loved her husband. (“Yes, we are fine,” she said.)
If Trump’s discussion of the payment to Daniels wasn’t romantic enough, he messed up a happy birthday tweet in 2017. Trump posted a photo of himself and the first lady on the day of his inauguration, with an image of the United States flag superimposed on it. Twitter users quickly noted that the flag didn’t have enough stars on it.
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These romantic fumbles aside, the first couple’s relationship has faced scrutiny even before Trump’s administration began. Despite the implications of the Mueller report, the many claims against Trump of sexual harassment and extra-marital affairs (all of which he has denied), and Mrs. Trump’s reported reluctance to hold her husband’s hand in public, the Trumps continue to champion each other.
In last year’s email campaign for Mrs. Trump’s birthday, the president wrote: “Melania is my rock and foundation, and I wouldn’t be the man I am today without her by my side.”
He also called her “the cornerstone of our family, and an incredible mother to our son, Barron.”
In February 2016, during an interview with MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Mrs. Trump said of her husband: “We have a great relationship. We are own people. I’m my own person. He’s his own person. And I think that’s very important. I don’t want to change him. He doesn’t want to change me.”