Biden keeps dinner low-key in Australia at a time of global turmoil

How do you host a state dinner on the South Lawn when the world is on fire?

For the fourth time, the Bidens know how to do it.

First, you cancel a show by a disrespectful rock band. Then reduce the celebrity power. And then you serve root vegetables and ice cream.

But it’s not a joke, you don’t cancel. The party continues because if the president canceled an event every time there was a national emergency or conflict abroad or the Republicans made Congress dysfunctional, he would never leave the White House. And this state dinner, held in honor of Anthony Albanese, Australia’s prime minister, was an opportunity to show a show of nuclear-powered military force to a planet that feels it is about to drift off its axis.

“We must continue to advance freedom, security and prosperity for all,” President Biden said somberly at the dinner, “and continue to build a future worthy of our highest hopes, even when it’s hard — especially when it’s hard.”

He thought now.

Before the dinner was over, Mr. Biden left to brief his advisers on the latest mass shooting, this time in Maine, a senior administration official said. He also called on several Maine lawmakers, including Gov. Janet Mills, Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins, and Rep. Jared Golden, to offer federal support. The president left the dinner shortly after 10 p.m

But there is also Israel’s war against Hamas, Ukraine’s war against Russia, and the new Speaker of the House of Representatives who has tried hard to undo Mr. Biden’s victory in the 2020 election. After reiterating his support for Israel and addressing the day’s other serious news topics at an earlier news conference, Mr. Biden turned from discussing politics and the toll of war to enjoying a menu rich in fall flavors.

He sat through the farro and roasted beet salad. Butternut Squash Soup. Young carrots glazed with sorghum. Short ribs. Crème fraîche ice cream. (“It makes him happy,” said Carlos Elizondo, the White House social secretary, during a preview of the dinner.) Everything was prepared by a guest chef for James Beard, Katie Button, and the phalanx of White House Chefs.

“Please join me in a toast to our partnership, our friendship and the future we will create together,” Mr. Biden said as he raised his glass. A burst of unrelated fireworks distracted both leaders for a moment, but they continued.

“I’m not really sure how I’m going to end this dating Jodie anytime, anywhere in the future,” the Prime Minister said. His partner nodded.

Mr Albanese will bring to Australia the president’s promise that his country will get nuclear submarines, plus an antique writing desk and vintage gramophone. In return, the president will receive the support of the Australians, who have agreed to send military personnel and aircraft to the Middle East, while increasing the delivery of missiles to Ukraine.

Guests included several Democratic Party donors, including Orin Kramer, Donald Sussman and Henry Laufer, who along with nearly 300 others encountered a wall of reporters. Among the guests were Naomi, Maisy and Finnegan Biden, three of Biden’s grandchildren who enjoy the White House so much that one of them got married there.

Among the rare Hollywood types was actor John Leguizamo, also a fundraiser, who sat at the president’s head table. He said he thinks Mr. Biden will do well in his campaign next year because “he’s getting Latino consultants and talking to Latino experts who will tell him how to address us.”

There was also Caroline Kennedy, the American ambassador to Australia, whose cousin Robert F. Kennedy Jr. ran as an independent candidate in the 2024 presidential elections. She and her husband avoid the press.

The list included Joe Kahn, executive editor of The New York Times, the company that bought Wordle, and Jeffrey Goldberg, editor-in-chief of The Atlantic. NBC News anchor Andrea Mitchell was also there, and she said the dinner was “appropriately” low-key. “The first lady has canceled the musical performance,” Ms. Mitchell told reporters.

It’s true. On Tuesday, Jill Biden, the first lady, canceled plans for the B-52s to play the event, opting instead to have the musicians as guests. The US Marine Band and the Army and Air Force Strolling Strings played in their place.

Another attendee, Sen. Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, said he was happy about the change.

Mr. Wyden reminded reporters of the stakes: “My parents fled the Nazis in the 1930s. They all came out. We lost family in Kristallnacht and Theresienstadt. And this is absolutely on our minds tonight, and I just want to commend the president and the first lady because we would love to, under normal circumstances, have music. That was a good call.”

In a gesture of bipartisan civility now mostly reserved for state dinners, a Democratic colleague offered a few words of support for the new speaker, Mike Johnson of Louisiana, who was elected Wednesday afternoon by Republican House members after three weeks of congressional turmoil.

“He’s a very bright guy, and you know, I hope for the best,” said Representative Joe Courtney, Democrat of Connecticut.

And Michael McCaul, Republican of Texas, predicted that Republicans would be united in sending additional aid and defense support to Ukraine and Israel. On his way to the party, he had only one message for the president: “Work with us on this!”

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