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  1. Florida Politics

Vive la France: Trump hosts glitzy White House state dinner

Published Apr. 21, 2018

WASHINGTON — 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 the decor.

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 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.

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