President Biden Seems to Have Removed the Famed 'Diet Coke Button' from the Oval Office Desk
But it could always make a comeback.
By the time President Joe Biden took a seat behind the Resolute Desk and started his first day of work, the Oval Office had already been swiftly redecorated for him. His family pictures were framed and neatly arranged in front of a bust of Latino-American labor leader and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez. A portrait of Benjamin Franklin replaced the painting of Andrew Jackson that had been on the wall for the past four years. And the previous president's red "Diet Coke button" had been removed from the desk, too.
On Thursday morning, British journalist Tom Newton Dunn shared side-by-side pictures of Biden and former President Donald Trump sitting behind their desks, noting one significant difference. "When [journalist Tom Shipman] and I interviewed Donald Trump in 2019, we became fascinated by what the little red button did," he tweeted. "Eventually Trump pressed it, and a butler swiftly brought in a Diet Coke on a silver platter. It's gone now."
Dunn isn't the first to note the existence of the button. During an April 2017 Oval Office interview with the Associated Press, journalist Julie Pace also got to see it in action. "With the push of a red button placed on the Resolute Desk that presidents have used for decades, a White House butler soon arrived with a Coke for the president," she wrote.
Demetri Sevastopulo, a Washington, D.C. correspondent for the Financial Times also mentioned its presence on the top of Trump's desk. "'This isn't the nuclear button, is it?' I joke, pointing," he wrote. "'No, no, everyone thinks it is,' Trump says on cue, before leaning over and pressing it to order some Cokes. 'Everyone does get a little nervous when I press that button.'"
According to The Independent, a former White House communications aide said that Trump would use the button to jokingly make Oval Office visitors nervous. "Out of nowhere, he'd suddenly press the button," Chris Sims wrote in his book, Team of Vipers. "Not sure what to do, guests would look at one another with raised eyebrows. Moments later, a steward would enter the room carrying a glass filled with Diet Coke on a silver platter, and Trump would burst out laughing."
But Trump didn't add the buzzed about (and frequently buzzed) button to the Oval Office desk: the button and the wooden box that houses it are rumored to have been installed by Lyndon B. Johnson so he could be warned when the First Lady was on her way to see him.
Subsequent presidents have used it to summon aides when they needed something. In his book Finding My Virginity, Richard Branson said that Barack Obama had buttons, plural, on his desk. "As we stood up to leave I noticed the red buttons on his desk. Obama saw me looking at them," he wrote. "He said, 'They used to be there for emergencies, but now I use them for ordering tea for my guests.'"
President Biden seems to have scrapped the idea of the button entirely, but it could be swiftly returned to the desktop if he changed his mind. Although the First Lady has said that the new prez prefers Coke Zero to Diet Coke, his love for ice cream is well-documented too. Being able to get a pint of Jeni's at the literal touch of a button would be really tempting.
Update January 27, 2021: According to Business Insider, the button has returned to the Resolute Desk in recent days. It's unclear what function Biden has decided to assign to the button. We will update this story as more information becomes available.