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Jill Biden arrives solo in London for King Charles' coronation

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First Lady Jill Biden is in London for the coronation of King Charles II on Saturday, dispatched by President Joe Biden to represent the United States. 

No American president has ever attended a British coronation. The first lady is traveling with Finnegan Biden, one of her granddaughters. Jill Biden was just 2 years old when Elizabeth was crowned in June 1953. Queen Elizabeth II held the throne for seven decades until her death in September at age 96.

While in London, the first lady is engaging in some soft diplomacy. She spent part of Friday at No. 10 Downing St., the prime minister's official residence, meeting with Akshata Murty, the wife of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. The women also planned to meet with veterans and their families participating in a health and wellness program. 

The first lady is also meeting with staff at the U.S. Embassy in London Friday before attending a reception King Charles III is hosting at Buckingham Palace. 

On Saturday, Jill Biden will represent the United States at the coronation at Westminster Abbey, seated among several hundred heads of state, royals from other nations and other guests who were invited to watch Charles and his wife, Camilla, be crowned king and queen. Afterward, she will attend a reception hosted by U.S. Ambassador Jane Hartley.

Jill Biden will also mingle at a Sunday luncheon hosted by Sunak and Murty at their Downing Street residence before her flight back to Washington.

First lady Jill Biden waves to a crowd in London
U.S. first lady Jill Biden leaves after a meeting with Akshata Murty, the wife of British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, at Downing Street in London, May 5, 2023. PETER NICHOLLS / REUTERS

Mr. Biden has received some criticism for skipping the coronation, but the White House has cited precedent for his decision. Dwight Eisenhower, who was president in 1953, did not attend Elizabeth's coronation.

The president and Charles have interacted at global climate events since Mr. Biden took office, and during the queen's funeral last year. They also spoke in April when Mr. Biden called to say he was sending the first lady to the coronation, and the president expressed interest in meeting with the king in the United Kingdom at a future date, the White House said at the time.

First ladies often stand in for presidents when they can't be present.

"I love seeing the first lady as our representative and I would have been thrilled for any first lady to attend," said Lindsay Reynolds, who was first lady Melania Trump's White House chief of staff. "I don't think it is a slight in any way for the president to not be attending."

Most modern-era first ladies, including Jill Biden, have engaged with members of the British royal family because the late queen had met every American president since Eisenhower, except for Lyndon Johnson.

Mr. Biden was the 13th and final U.S. leader to meet the queen. They saw each other when he visited England in 2021 with his wife to participate in a Group of Seven world leader summit. At the time, the queen also invited the Bidens to have tea with her at Windsor Castle.

Jill Biden told The Associated Press in a telephone interview after the queen's death that sitting in her living room was like being with one's grandmother.

"And she said, 'Let me pour the tea,' and we said, 'No, no, let us help,' and she said 'Oh, no, no, no, I'll get this. You sit down,'" the first lady said. "And it was just a very special moment with a very special woman."

During that trip, she and Prince William's wife, Kate, met for the first time at a preschool in southwest England where they participated in a roundtable discussion on the role of early childhood education in life outcomes. They also learned about caring for bunny rabbits.

The first lady also has met William's brother, Prince Harry, several times through their work and support of military veterans. She has joined Harry for the Invictus Games, an athletic competition he founded for wounded or sick military veterans.

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