First Lady Melania Trump is being choosy about her appearances amid a 26-days-and-counting disappearance from the public eye.
After reemerging Monday evening at a closed-press White House ceremony to honor Gold Star families, Mrs. Trump, 48, opted out of her husband’s “Celebration of America” event on Tuesday. (President Trump planned the event at the White House to replace an Eagles Super Bowl celebration after rescinding his invitation to the team over a disagreement involving the national anthem.)
Mrs. Trump’s spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, tells PEOPLE that Mrs. Trump had meetings on Tuesday so she was unable to attend the event. But Grisham confirmed that the first lady would join her husband on Wednesday at FEMA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., for a briefing on hurricane preparedness.
Given that the Gold Star families reception on Monday evening was closed to the press, the hurricane briefing will mark the first lady’s official first public outing since before undergoing a successful kidney procedure on May 14.
Throughout her unprecedented absence, there was national speculation about the first lady’s whereabouts — and why she didn’t simply appear in public to quash the rumors once and for all.
Even as her husband and stepdaughter Ivanka hosted a “Sports and Fitness Day” event at the White House last week, the first lady remained out of sight and instead chose to send out a tweet shutting down conspiracy theories about her ongoing absence.
“I see the media is working overtime speculating where I am & what I’m doing. Rest assured, I’m here at the @WhiteHouse w my family, feeling great, & working hard on behalf of children & the American people!” she tweeted, presumably from the First Family’s second-floor private quarters while her husband, hundreds of visitors and dozens of White House reporters were assembled on the South Lawn just feet below.
Something lost about @FLOTUS in all of this Twitter talk…she is intensely private (yes, even though she’s a Trump). People close to her have often told me of how stubborn she can be about things like this. A simple statement could end speculation but she refuses to give in.
— Yashar Ali (@yashar) June 3, 2018
But the tweet did little to quell the rumor mill, and the way it was worded even sparked new speculation that the tweet had been written not by the first lady but by her husband.
Freelance reporter Yashar Ali credits Mrs. Trump’s “stubborn” streak as the reason she’s refused to show her face in public for so long.
“Something lost about @FLOTUS in all of this Twitter talk…she is intensely private (yes, even though she’s a Trump),” he tweeted Sunday. “People close to her have often told me of how stubborn she can be about things like this. A simple statement could end speculation but she refuses to give in.”
Sources have also told PEOPLE in the past of Mrs. Trump’s intensely private nature, saying she “hates” her lifestyle at the White House and longs for the simplicity and relative anonymity of her past life in New York.
Though she’ll be stepping out in public on Wednesday, Mrs. Trump won’t attend the G7 summit in Canada this week with the president, nor go on a June 12 trip to Singapore for a North Korea meeting, her spokesperson told NBC News.
Anita McBride, former chief of staff to First Lady Laura Bush, previously told PEOPLE that beyond sending well wishes following Mrs. Trump’s procedure, American citizens should respect and understand that the first lady’s health “should be her personal business she’s not the president.”
But the Washington Post‘s Margaret Sullivan argues in a new op-ed that “Actually, Melania, your disappearance is a legitimate news story.”
“She’s a public figure, whose staff and security cost taxpayers millions of dollars a year. When she announces her pro-kids campaign or wears a statement white chapeau or attends a state dinner, news coverage is expected,” Sullivan writes. “It comes with the territory, whether that territory is something she sought or not. And so, too, when she does something highly unusual, such as drop off the scene altogether.”
Sullivan also argues that as the Trump White House — including the first lady — continues to knock down “well-established norms of how the government and the public … behave toward one another,” the media has a responsibility to cover that erosion.
“So, Melania, we’ll be looking for you,” Sullivan concludes. “And there’s nothing wrong with that.”