A dinner party with political opponents was so unsettling that even clinking glasses could not have drowned the undercurrents of partisanship.
President Biden and Jill Biden, the first lady, hosted Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India at the White House on Thursday.Credit...Doug Mills/The New York Times
This article is for you
By Katie Rogers
Reporting from the Booksellers Hall at the White House
June 22, 2023
State dinners can be a great way to celebrate the culture of a visiting leader. On Thursday night, Jill Biden and President Biden hosted a soiree for 400 guests, complete with sequins and saris. The event was held in honor of India's Prime Minister Narendra modi.
The vegetarian guest of honour was treated to a variety of sweets, including rose-cardamom strawberries shortcake. The two leaders joked sarcastically -- literally -- about the relationship between them.
Mr. Biden stated that the good news was 'neither one of us drinks'
Biden toasted 'two great countries, two great allies, and two powerful powers' while holding a ginger ale glass.
Even though the White House was closed, it was still possible to feel the acrimony of the political turmoil, both domestic and global. Outside, protesters held signs in the rain criticizing Modi's treatment towards religious groups. House Republicans on Capitol Hill had just voted for an investigation into the possibility of Mr. Biden being removed from office due to his immigration policies. On the guest list, there was at least another target for impeachment: Alejandro N. Mayorkas. He is the secretary of Homeland Security.
A dinner with political opponents and Biden family was so dissonant, that no amount of glass-clinking could have drowned the partisan undercurrents.
Two prominent Republicans still appeared at the White House, and they indicated that they would put their boxing gloves aside for a couple of hours in order to enjoy the State Dinner, which is the only social event left in Washington, where everyone wants it, regardless of political convictions.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy from California and Representative Steve Scalise from Louisiana didn't really seem to want talk politics. When asked about the political machinations which seemed to be switched off, Mr. McCarthy pointed out that he had brought his daughter in law to the event. 'It's my turn!' she said to a group of reporters. This tactic was similar to that he used when he brought his mother to Emmanuel Macron's state dinner last winter.
Elizabeth, Senator Chuck Schumer's daughter-in law, was a good choice for reporters who were not interested in talking politics. Mr. Schumer was seated at the same table as the first lady and president, along with Ralph Lauren, the designer of Dr. Biden’s sequined gown.
Senator Joe Manchin III walked by smiling on the arm his wife, who is a centrist and often the legislative thorn of his party.
Mr. Scalise who had previously been invited to the Macron dinner attended alone and only said that he was expecting an "interesting dinner" given the jumble of guests.
He was referring the Attorney General Merrick G.arland and Hunter Biden. The son of the President, Hunter Biden had, two days before, indicated that he would be pleading guilty to two misdemeanor taxes crimes and striking a deal in order to avoid prosecution for a gun charge. The younger Mr. Biden arrived by trolley at the tent, just as the elder Mr. Biden was about to give a toast. James Biden, the brother of the president, has also avoided the cameras. He is a businessman who pursues overseas deals, and is a target for the Republican-led House Oversight Committee.
Ashley Biden, daughter of the president, was whizzing by in sequins and refused to answer any questions about her dress. The Justice Department is looking into the theft of her diary by conservative operatives while she was recovering from addiction.
Modi praises the 'limitless' potential of U.S. India Partnership
In an address to Congress, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi promoted the development of his nation and said that the relationship between India and the United States is important for the future of democracy.
India is the largest democracy, and the U.S. the oldest. Our partnership is a good sign for the future. [Cheers] Together we will give the world a better tomorrow and the future a world that is better. Everyone wants to know about India's democracy, development and diversity. Everyone wants to understand what India does right. Not only are we growing larger, but also faster. India's growth is good for the world. I could go on forever. To summarize, I would say that the scope of our collaboration is endless. The potential of our synergy has no limits. And the chemistry between us is effortless.
Also, Attorney General Merrick garland avoided reporters. During dinner, Mr. Garland avoided the younger Mr. Biden who was circulating amongst the guests and stopping to talk and laugh with Bill Nelson, former senator and NASA administrator.
Nancy Pelosi and her husband Paul, the former House Speaker, arrived at the party with a clear understanding of the difference between a few harmless hours of fun and the partisan strife outside. Last fall, a far-right conspiracist attacked Mr. Pelosi with a hammer in his San Francisco home. Mr. Pelosi wore hats for months in public, but this time he showed off his graying hair and claimed to be feeling great.
The pace of each person's footsteps in this crowd seemed to be directly related to their interest in talking with reporters. Ro Khanna (Democrat, California) - one of the California lawmakers who requested Mr. Modi to deliver an address to Congress on the same day - slowed down to answer a query about his satisfaction with the Prime Minister's remarks about human rights. 'I think it was good that he spoke about celebrating all religions,' said Mr. Khanna before heading to the tent.
The event, unlike previous ones, was not awash with celebrities. However, several Indian and Indian American leaders were invited, including Indra nooyi, former CEO of Pepsi, Mukesh ambani, philanthropist and billionaire, and Vimal kapur, chief executive officer of Honeywell.
The guest list seemed to be dominated by political allies and a few provocative opponents, as well as deep-pocketed donors, in anticipation of Mr. Biden’s reelection campaign. Tim Cook, an Apple employee, and John Morgan, a Florida donor, attended. James Murdoch was also present, the son Rupert Murdoch. Last October, the younger Murdoch hosted a fundraising event for Mr. Biden.
Joshua Bell, a violinist scheduled to perform at the dinner, answered a question about Mr. Modi. He said: 'I love Indian music but try to avoid politics' before a military assistant pulled him in.
The prime minister was among the few guests to publicly engage in politics at the dinner.
Modi said that he was a soft-spoken man, but when it came to action he was very strong.
Doug Mills has contributed to the reporting.
Katie Rogers, White House Correspondent, covers the Biden Administration, Washington Culture and Domestic Policy. She joined The Times as a reporter in 2014. URL
This article is for you