Trump, first lady pull out of Kennedy Center Honors to avoid "political distraction"

Last Updated Aug 19, 2017 9:42 AM EDT

President Trump and first lady Melania Trump will sit out this year's Kennedy Center Honors after several honorees said they would boycott a traditional reception at the White House ahead of the December ceremony.

"The President and First Lady have decided not to participate in this year's activities to allow the honorees to celebrate without any political distraction," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement Saturday morning.

Kennedy Center chairman David Rubenstein and president Deborah Rutter said the Center respects the decision. In a statement, Rubenstein and Rutter said "the Administration has graciously signaled its respect for the Kennedy Center," adding they "are grateful for the gesture."

The Trumps' decision to skip the festivities in Washington, D.C., comes after three of the five recipients of the 2017 honorees said they would skip the now-canceled White House reception.

Television icon Norman Lear said in early August that he would decline the invitation to the White House but attend the award ceremony. Lionel Richie said on Tuesday he was also considering a boycott. Dancer Carmen de Lavallade told the Washington Post on Thursday she would be skipping the reception.

"In light of the socially divisive and morally caustic narrative that our current leadership is choosing to engage in, and in keeping with the principles that I and so many others have fought for, I will be declining the invitation to attend the reception at the White House," she said in a statement to the Post.

Singer Gloria Estefan, however, had said she would attend the reception and take the opportunity to talk to Mr. Trump about immigration. LL Cool J will become the first rapper to receive the prestigious award and was tentatively scheduled to attend the reception.

The 2017 Kennedy Center Honors ceremony will be held on Dec. 3 and air on CBS and CBS All Access on Dec. 26.