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Bidens' first White House state dinner a star-studded affair

Analyzing Biden's state dinner with Macron
Analyzing Biden's state dinner with France's Emmanuel Macron 05:56

President Biden and first lady Dr. Jill Biden held their first White House state dinner of the Biden administration Thursday night, hosting French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte Macron, along with a star-studded guest list with big names from fashion, entertainment, politics and business.

In his toast, Mr. Biden touched on the long bilateral relationship between the two countries, dating back to the American Revolutionary War, and calling France the "first friend" of the U.S.

"France was our first ally, first country to fly the American flag after our revolution," Mr. Biden said.

"Today, we're still united by the greatest causes: democracy, liberty, equality, opportunity and freedom," Mr. Biden added.

White House state dinner
U.S. President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden greet French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte Macron, as they arrive for a state dinner at the White House in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 1, 2022. LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP/Getty Images

In his toast, Macron echoed those sentiments, calling Mr. Biden a "dear friend."

"You perfectly describe the challenges we have in front of us," Macron said.

The White House had not held a state dinner since September 2019, largely because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which put a damper on gatherings of large numbers of people.

White House state dinner
French President Emmanuel Macron speaks alongside President Biden during a state dinner on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 1, 2022. LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP/Getty Images

There were kisses all around as the Bidens stepped out on the North Portico to welcome the Macrons — Jill Biden in an off-the-shoulder navy gown by American designer Oscar de la Renta, Brigitte Macron in a high-necked ivory dress by French designer Louis Vuitton.

Jill Biden's open invitation as the foursome headed inside: "Enjoy the evening."

Other guests trickled in via a side entrance, and seemed keen to do just that. First to arrive: Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, followed not long after by Gov. John Carney, representing Biden's home state of Delaware.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus White House state dinner
Actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus, left, and Charles Hall arrive at a state dinner at the White House in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 1, 2022.  Sarah Silbiger/CNP/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus whizzed by the press, pausing only to say that, yes, she'd been to a state dinner before and it was all "very exciting." Comedian Stephen Colbert, host of "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert," made his entrance, saying nothing as guests passed through a White House decorated for the holidays and boarded trolleys for the ride down the South Lawn to a heated party tent.

Shoe designer Christian Louboutin — wearing a crystal bolo tie — was asked how many people might be wearing his shoes for the night, and wouldn't hazard a guess, saying, "I have no idea." Vogue editor Anna Wintour also was among the 338 names on the official guest list.

Family made the cut too: Biden's adult children, Hunter and Ashley, and his sister, Valerie Biden, were on the guest list.

Others attending: "Good Morning America" anchor Robin Roberts, actors Jennifer Garner and Ariana DeBose and singer John Legend and his wife, Chrissy Teigen. Garner was among those wearing velvet, a popular choice on a night when temperatures dipped into the 30s.

President Biden Hosts State Visit For French President Macron At White House
Musician John Legend, right, and model Chrissy Teigen arrive to attend a state dinner at the White House in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 1, 2022.  Sarah Silbiger/CNP/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Outgoing Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was there, as was House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy of California, who hopes to succeed Pelosi.

McCarthy was asked how he felt about attending a dinner with Hunter Biden, whom Republicans are keen to investigate when they take control of the House in January. "I'm at dinner with my mom and I'm going to have a great time," McCarthy said.

Other lawmakers were excited to introduce family members who accompanied them. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, Democrat of Delaware, who wore a royal blue one-shoulder gown and elbow-length black gloves, brought her niece, Hannah Carter, who told her aunt the affair "feels like Bridgerton," referring to the Netflix romance series.

Nancy Pelosi White House state dinner
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her daughter Alexandra Pelosi arrive at the White House to attend a state dinner in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 1, 2022. ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP via Getty Images

Former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms stopped to talk shop before Tuesday's runoff Senate election in Georgia, where Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock is seeking reelection, declaring, "I think it's going to be a great night for Georgia on Tuesday ... just gotta make sure people continue to turn out."

The White House flew in 200 Maine lobsters this week as part of the meal. The first course, as White House Executive Chef Cris Comerford described to reporters Wednesday, was bright poached Maine lobster, dolloped with American Osetra Caviar from California.

"We came up with a menu that would highlight and express the state of America at the moment. We are featuring beautiful things from the land and the sea," Comerford said.

Musician Jon Batiste, his wife, writer Suleika Jaouad, and their family arrive at the White House to attend a state dinner in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 1, 2022. ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP via Getty Images

Hostess Jill Biden earlier Thursday took her French counterpart and fellow teacher to a language museum to highlight their mutual interest in learning and their growing friendship.

"We are friends," Brigitte Macron said as she and Biden clasped hands at Planet Word, a museum dedicated to words and language.

"We are friends," Biden repeated.

The declaration of friendship fit the occasion. A state dinner is a high diplomatic honor, one the United States bestows only on its closest allies - like France, one of America's oldest.

The wives had their museum outing while their husbands held talks at the White House. Brigitte Macron is a former French literature and theater teacher; Jill Biden continues to teach English and writing at a Virginia community college.

Plenty of business luminaries also attended, including French luxury goods magnate Bernard Arnault, movie mogul and investor Jeffrey Katzenberg, private equity legend Henry Kravis and IBM CEO Arvind Krishna.

The guest list also had a heavy presence of big Democratic donors who helped the party make a better-than-expected showing in the midterm elections. Among them, Katzenberg, a big Hollywood money man; Avram Glazer, who in recent years has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Democratic causes; and Alexander Soros, the son of George Soros and deputy chair of Soros' Open Society.

Guests dined on rented tableware because place settings from the White House China collection are not allowed to be removed from the executive mansion. They were seated at a mix of square and rectangular tables with dark blue silk cloths, red candles and arrangements of red, white and blue flowers, including white irises, the official flower of France.

Jon Batiste, a Grammy Award-winning New Orleans native and the former bandleader and musical director of "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert," was providing the after-dinner entertainment.

"It's going to be fire," Batiste promised ahead of his performance.

Thursday's dinner followed last month's wedding of Biden's granddaughter on the South Lawn with 250 guests. And tens of thousands of people will stream through the White House this month, including tourists and others invited to nearly a month's worth of holiday receptions.

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