Thursday , June 1 2023
Biden and Macron Toast Their Alliance With Lobster and American-Made Cheese

Biden and Macron Toast Their Alliance With Lobster and American-Made Cheese

WASHINGTON — More than a year after feuding over submarines, President Biden and President Emmanuel Macron of France honored their alliance with lobsters and cheese.

The first official state dinner of Mr. Biden’s presidency marked the latest step in the return of post-pandemic normalcy, as celebrities joined politicians, business leaders and big donors to honor America’s oldest ally at the White House.

“Vive la France and God bless America,” Mr. Biden said in his toast, as some 300 guests clinked glasses.

Mr. Macron also raised his glass, saying, “We come from the same values, principles.”

“Long live the United States of America, long live France and long live the friendship between our two countries,” the French president said.

The evening began as the Bidens and the Macrons followed members of the military down the Grand Staircase of the White House before posing for a photograph and heading to dinner under a tented pavilion on the South Lawn. Jill Biden, the first lady, wore a navy, off-the-shoulder gown by Oscar de la Renta, while Brigitte Macron wore an ivory Louis Vuitton gown with a high neck.

The guests walked through a White House hallway usually used for selling books, passing by photographers and reporters who shouted questions.

Jon Batiste, the Grammy-winning musician and composer, said his performance for Mr. Biden and Mr. Macron was “going to be fire.” Mr. Batiste’s wife, Suleika Jaouad, an author who has been fighting cancer, said, “This is my first time out in a year.”

Ariana DeBose, the Academy-Award winning actress, said she “couldn’t be more excited” to arrive at the White House with Henry R. Muñoz III, the activist and owner of the comedy studio Funny or Die. The actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus agreed it was “very exciting” to be back at the White House, although she did not reply when asked if it felt similar to her political satire, “Veep.”

Tim Cook, the chief executive of Apple, who had a seat at the head table with the Bidens, the Macrons, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others, let it slip that his conversation with Elon Musk this week had been “very good.” Anna Wintour, the editor in chief of Vogue, complimented a reporter’s fashion.

Domestic politics were kept low-key. Representative Steve Scalise, Republican of Louisiana, laughed as Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, held up the makeshift red carpet to show reporters his French-speaking skills.

Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the likely speaker when Republicans take control of the House in January, allowed that there were areas of compromise to be found with Mr. Biden. But he dodged when asked what it would be like dining with Mr. Biden’s son, Hunter, whom Republicans want to investigate when they take the majority.

“Well, I’m at dinner with my mom, so we’re going to have a great time,” Mr. McCarthy answered.

And then there was the food. The Macrons were treated to caviar; an American cheese course, including Oregon-based Rogue River Blue, the winner of the 2019-20 World Cheese Awards; and butter-poached Maine lobster.

The crustaceans proved somewhat contentious. On Monday, Whole Foods said it planned to stop buying lobster from the state, citing concerns from environmental groups that say endangered North Atlantic right whales have become entangled in fishing gear.

Cristeta Comerford, who as White House executive chef designed the menu, made a point of praising Maine lobster workers.

The office of the first lady, which was largely responsible for planning the dinner, said the theme for the event was red, white and blue — “inspired by the shared colors of our flags.”

The White House placed red roses and blue delphiniums alongside white irises, the official flower of France, on each table during the dinner to symbolize the shared colors of the nations. While squashes for the meal were picked from the White House garden, the plates were rented. (The official White House china is not permitted to leave the building to prevent it from getting damaged.)

While Mr. Biden and Mr. Macron kept up a serious demeanor throughout most of Thursday’s official visit as they discussed the war in Ukraine and economic disputes, both world leaders appeared to enjoy one of the more glamorous traditions of the White House.

Before arriving, Mr. Biden gave Mr. Macron a custom vinyl record collection of great American musicians and an archival facsimile print of Thomas Edison’s 1877 patent of the American phonograph. Mr. Macron gave Mr. Biden and a vinyl and original soundtrack to “Un Homme et une Femme,” a film the Bidens saw on their first date.

Relations between Mr. Biden and Mr. Macron have not always been quite so rosy.

Little more than a year ago, a trans-Atlantic contretemps threatened to sour U.S.-French relations when Mr. Biden reached a deal to help Australia deploy nuclear-powered submarines, dooming an earlier French contract to provide conventional submarines.

Mr. Biden later said the administration was “clumsy” in how it handled the deal and has since met with Mr. Macron on multiple occasions.

None of those tensions were on display on Thursday.

In Mr. Biden’s toast, he said his beloved home state gave rise to the countries’ earliest ties.

He noted that he grew up in a part of Delaware near Brandywine Battlefield, “where a young man named Marquis de Lafayette fought for the American cause and became close friends with a fellow named George Washington.”

Some Biden administration advisers seemed focused on brushing up on their French history before arriving at the state dinner. Gene Sperling, a senior adviser for Mr. Biden, told reporters that he made sure to work on U.S. history homework with his daughter before the dinner and was “reminded of who financed our revolution.”

“That counts for something,” he said.

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