Typically, Kennedy Center Honorees enjoy a pre-gala reception at the White House before taking their seats next to the president at the Kennedy Center to enjoy performances and tributes at the traditionally apolitical event.
However, for 2017, things will be a little different. In a statement released earlier today, the White House announced that President Trump will not be in attendance at this year’s Kennedy Center Honors.
“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. “First Lady Melania Trump, along with her husband President Donald J. Trump, extend their sincerest congratulations and well wishes to all of this year’s award recipients for their many accomplishments.”
This announcement comes just days after two honorees, television writer Norman Lear and dancer Carmen de Lavallade, publicly announced they would not attend the White House reception. Lionel Richie also told Today that he would “play it by ear” in deciding whether or not to attend.
Singer-songwriter Gloria Estefan and hip-hop artist LL COOL J are also due to be honored at the event, which will take place on December 3, 2017 at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.
After the President’s announcement, the Kennedy Center cancelled the pre-gala White House reception, and said they now expect all five honorees to participate.
“The Kennedy Center respects the decision made today by the office of the President of the United States. In choosing not to participate in this year’s Honors activities, the Administration has graciously signaled its respect for the Kennedy Center and ensures the Honors gala remains a deservingly special moment for the Honorees. We are grateful for this gesture,” Kennedy Center Chairman David M. Rubenstein and President Deborah F. Rutter said in a statement.
Lear’s statement on why he would not attend the White House reception was particularly moving, with the 95-year old writing: “As a young Jewish boy in the 1920s, as an airman flying over Berlin in World War II, as a young father in Los Angeles trying to make ends meet, as a successful writer/producer touring a copy of the Declaration of Independence around the country — in the many lifetimes I’ve lived — I could not have imagined this day. And I am honored that it comes at an especially appropriate time. As a people, we — our values, our institutions — are being tested … It is more important now than ever that we stand up for artists, for artistic expression, and for the valiant fight that artists fight to reveal the wonder and oneness of the human spirit.”
This marks the first time in 23 years that a president has missed the event, and the first time that a sitting President has made the willing decision to skip the event without some kind of crisis demanding their attention since the annual ceremony began 40-years ago.
Bill Clinton was the last president to skip the event. He missed the 1994 ceremony because, according to the New York Times, he was on Air Fore One en-route to Hungary. President George H.W. Bush missed the event in 1989 because he was meeting with Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev in Malta, where the pair declared the end of the Cold War, and Jimmy Carter missed the event in 1979 because of the ongoing Iran hostage crisis.