Ooh la la! French president's love life complicates state dinner

WASHINGTON - The White House state dinner Tuesday night has a menu ranging from caviar to cotton candy. But the food will not be the first thing on anyone’s mind.

If the White House had its way, you wouldn't have any idea that the love life of France's president complicated the plans for the state dinner.

The revelation several weeks ago of President Francois Hollande's affair with a French actress led to his breakup with his partner, Valerie Trierweiler, France's unofficial first lady.

The White House had to toss out more than 300 engraved dinner invitations bearing both Hollande and Trierweiler’s names.

French President Francois Hollande's breakup with longtime partner Valerie Trierweiler forced the White House to change some arrangements for Tuesday night's state dinner. CBS News
And other anxiety-provoking questions: Would Hollande bring a date? No, he came stag. But then, if not the first lady of France, who would sit in the seat of honor next to President Barack Obama? And who would be a dance partner for he French president? Does it really matter?

So what do you do when you find out suddenly that the woman whose name is on the invitation isn't coming?

"You're flexible because things change throughout a visit from the moment the president extends an invitation to that visiting chief of state or head of government, and you make sure that you move along with the rest of the details of that visit," said Capricia Marshall, who was chief of protocol for the White House during Obama's first term.

State dinners are always a high-wire act, among the greatest honors the nation can bestow on a foreign visitor. Washington watches who gets invited and who doesn't.

And, they're expensive – it will cost around half a million dollars to feed Tuesday night's 340 guests some of America’s best food and wine.

So on both sides of the Atlantic, the official response to the suddenly single status of the French president is a big Gallic shrug.

First lady Michelle Obama and President Barack Obama welcome French President Francois Hollande for a state dinner at the White House on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Washington. Evan Vucci, AP

  • Bill Plante

    Bill Plante is a CBS News Senior White House Correspondent