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Trump Hosts Glitzy WH State Dinner     04/21 10:06

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Now it's President Donald Trump's turn to pull off the 
ultimate charm offensive.

   Wined and dined on multiple state visits during his tour of Asia last year, 
Trump is paying it forward and celebrating nearly 250 years of U.S.-French 
relations by playing host to President Emmanuel Macron at a glitzy White House 
state dinner on Tuesday.

   Months in the making, it's the first state visit and first big soiree of the 
Trump era in Washington.

   "It sounds like what they're planning will be spectacular," said Jeremy 
Bernard, who was White House social secretary in 2014, the last time the U.S. 
feted a French president.

   The White House has said little beyond the fact that dinner will be served, 
sticking to the tradition of trying to maintain an element of surprise for its 
guests.

   In fact, Macron will break bread twice with Trump.

   On Monday, the president and Melania Trump will dine privately with Macron 
and his wife, Brigitte, at Mount Vernon, the home of America's first president, 
George Washington, on the banks of the Potomac River in Virginia. The White 
House said the setting will serve as a reminder of France's "unique status" as 
America's first ally.

   Trump ended his first year without receiving a foreign leader on a state 
visit, making him the first president in nearly 100 years to do so and 
heightening the stakes for Tuesday.

   Dinner tickets are typically highly sought after by Washington's political 
and business elite. A few inklings of who's in and who's out already are known: 
Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, is in, as are House 
Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Senate Republican 
Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky was invited, but his office said he is 
unable to attend.

   In a break with tradition, Trump invited no Democratic members of Congress 
or journalists, said a White House official who was not authorized to discuss 
the arrangements. But at least one Democrat will be in the crowd: the office of 
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards confirmed his attendance.

   Approximately 150 guests will take their seats in the State Dining Room on 
Tuesday, making for a more intimate affair than those held by President Barack 
Obama. Obama's guest lists numbered into the hundreds, requiring that the event 
be held in a tented pavilion erected on the South Lawn because no room in the 
White House can accommodate that many people.

   Most of the responsibility for executing a flawless celebration falls to the 
first lady and her staff, including such key details as what is served (Trump 
likes wedge salads and chocolate cake) and poured into glasses (Trump wine?), 
who sits next to whom, who performs after dinner and what the decor looks like.

   One big moment is the first glimpse of the first lady in her gown. Fashion 
details are kept secret until the first couple steps on to the North Portico on 
Tuesday night to welcome their dinner guests.

   Former first lady Michelle Obama often used state dinners to showcase the 
talent of up-and-coming designers. Some designers have cited Trump's politics 
in refusing to dress the current first lady, a former model. Still, a likely 
choice would be Dior, the French design house whose fashions Mrs. Trump often 
wears, or Herve Pierre, the French-American who designed her inaugural gown and 
other looks.

   The last time a Republican president hosted his French counterpart was 
November 2007 when President George W. Bush welcomed the newly divorced Nicolas 
Sarkozy.

   More than 100 guests feasted on lobster bisque, lamb with tomato fondue, 
green beans and sweet potato casserole, salad and dessert served in the State 
Dining Room. Among the guests were major league baseball pitcher Tom Glavine, 
Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, French chef Guy Savoy and several 
Louisiana politicians.

   After dinner, guests strolled down the hall to the East Room to watch 
performers in the roles of Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette, the 
Frenchman who served on Washington's staff in the Continental Army. Sarkozy 
toured Mount Vernon the following day.

   When Macron's limousine first pulls up the White House driveway on Tuesday 
morning, Trump, the first lady, White House and administration officials, and 
hundreds of invited guests will be waiting on the South Lawn. The pomp-filled 
arrival ceremony is for the man who became the youngest president in French 
history when he was elected in 2017 at age 39 on his first run for office.

   The visit also offers Macron his first Oval Office meeting and a joint White 
House news conference with Trump. There's also a State Department lunch hosted 
by Vice President Mike Pence before Macron and his wife arrive for the state 
dinner.

   The Trump-Macron relationship appeared to get off to a bumpy start with a 
white-knuckler of a handshake when the political novices met for the first time 
at a NATO summit in Brussels last May. But Macron likely sealed the bond after 
Trump accepted his invitation to attend the annual Bastille Day military parade 
in the center of Paris in July. Macron and his wife also took Trump and the 
first lady on a tour of Napoleon's tomb and whisked them up into the Eiffel 
Tower for dinner overlooking the City of Light. The experience led Trump to 
order up a military parade for downtown Washington later this year.

   But the two part company on some significant issues, including the Paris 
climate accord, which Trump withdrew the U.S. from last year, and the 
Iran-nuclear deal, another multinational agreement that Trump is itching to 
pull out of. The president did successfully rally Macron and British Prime 
Minister Theresa May, with whom Trump has sparred, to mount a joint military 
operation against Syria in response to an apparent chemical attack this month 
that killed Syrian civilians. Macron still worries about Trump's desire to 
remove U.S. troops from Syria.

   An art lover who speaks good English, Macron is known to watch what he eats. 
Yet he told reporters at an agricultural fair in Paris in February that "I 
drink wine at lunch and dinner."

   Discerning his tastes, including likes and dislikes, even allergies, is one 
of the first things the White House tries to pin down for all guests, said 
Bernard.

   "You're really focused on making sure the guest feels special," he said.

   Mrs. Trump's social secretary, Rickie Niceta, came aboard last year after 
two decades of event planning for a caterer whose clients included the White 
House, the State Department and several embassies, in addition to working on 
the past five presidential inaugurations, including Trump's. The first lady, 
who speaks French, also has experienced hands running the kitchen, pastry shop 
and florist's lair. All three women helped execute more than a dozen state 
dinners for Obama.

   Trump owns hotels, including one near the White House, and knows about good 
hospitality.

   Bernard recalled that, just as invitations were about to go out for the 2014 
dinner for then-French President Francois Hollande, news broke that Hollande 
and his longtime girlfriend had abruptly split. Mrs. Obama's staff anxiously 
sought clarity on whether Hollande would bring another date.

   He didn't, and Bernard dealt with the awkwardness of the situation by 
seating Hollande between the two Obamas.


(KA)

 
 
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