Fifteen months into his presidency, President Trump and First Lady Melania will host their first state dinner Tuesday. The guest of honor is French President Emmanuel Macron.
Given that Trump favors grand and rather gaudy displays in his personal life, it is interesting that his time in the White House has more closely mimicked that of George W. Bush than Barack Obama. The Obamas certainly enjoyed a good party at the White House in their days there, complete with tents on the South Lawn and showbiz entertainment. This diplomatic dinner sounds almost austere.
Gone are the President Barack Obama-era days of outside event-planning firms and tents set up on the South Lawn to accommodate guest lists of more than 350. Like President George W. Bush, Trump will host the event in the State Dining Room, with a guest list close to 150.
First Lady Melania Trump’s office will be in charge of planning the dinner with heavy involvement from Mrs. Trump herself.
“Mrs. Trump has been involved in every detail of the planning,” said Stephanie Grisham, the first lady’s press secretary. “Over the past few months, she has been very focused on guest experience, tradition and our country’s rich history with France.”
Hey, guess who isn’t coming to dinner? In a break from tradition, none of the Congressional Democrats have been invited. Also absent from the guest list are members of the media. How’s that for diplomacy? I admit this news makes me laugh. Did anyone think that Donald Trump would suddenly start being a traditional president when he was elected precisely because voters counted on him to not do that? One thing that will never be said about the Trump presidency is that it’s boring.
To be fair, few from Congress will be in attendance.
This year, the entire Democratic caucus was shut out, including Trump’s own home-state senator and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Members of the media, too, have been left off the invite list, according to a White House official. Absent will be the Hollywood stars who regularly graced Obama events.
In total, only about 150 people are expected to attend next week’s dinner. Ryan; the two Republican senators from Louisiana, Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy; and House Foreign Affairs Chair Ed Royce will be the only members of Congress attending, according to a person familiar with the guest list. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was invited, but will not be able to attend, his office said.
Louisiana’s Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards will also be attending, according to a person familiar with his plans.
Let’s face it. The Louisiana politicians are the important ones given their state’s French connection. Who cares if Chuck Schumer isn’t there? Even though Trump’s referred to as the reality show president, you may remember the commotion caused when, during Obama’s first state dinner at the very beginning of his first term, a reality show wannabe couple crashed his formal affair. They even brought along a Bravo television crew to film the stunt.
While one elitist society magazine tsk-tsked that Trump is the first president since Coolidge to not host a state dinner during his first year in office, Anita McBride isn’t concerned. McBride worked for three Republican presidents and her last position was that of former First Lady Laura Bush’s chief of staff.
“There is no rule as to when you should or must do a state dinner,” McBride told me by phone Friday afternoon. She pointed out that in their first year in the White House the Trumps did extensive international travel and hosted world leaders at Mar-a-Lago.
McBride said that “the reason to have a state dinner [is to build on] this relationship, a friendship that obviously has developed between President Trump and President Macron” and to use it as “our opportunity as a country to show the French president that we value the relationship.”
That’s true enough. Earlier this week, the Trumps hosted the Japanese Prime Minister and his wife at Mar-a-Lago.
“Many of the world’s great leaders request to come to Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach,” Trump said. “They like it. I like it. We’re comfortable.”
Trump has made 17 visits to Mar-a-Lago since taking office, hitting the links at his nearby golf club when most of the country is dealing with frigid temperatures. The president says his estate is also an ideal site for diplomacy because world leaders “specifically request” to meet there.
So, does the America public care who is invited to a state dinner? Probably not. Frankly, I think that ending the practice of treating the press personalities as guests at such events is a step in the right direction. The lines blurred too much during the Obama administration and it isn’t helpful for journalists tasked with reporting history to be treated as Hollywood celebrities.
I do have two important closing questions presented with tongue firmly planted in cheek: What’s on the menu and what is Melania wearing? You’ve got to give the people what they want.