US President Donald Trump will look to pull off the ultimate charm offensive as he hosts French President Emmanuel Macron at a glitzy White House state dinner.
Wined and dined on multiple state visits during his tour of Asia last year, Mr Trump is paying it forward and celebrating nearly 250 years of US-French relations at the dinner on Tuesday. Months in the making, it is 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 US 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, Mr Macron will break bread twice with Mr Trump.
On Monday, the president and Melania Trump will dine privately with Mr 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. Mr 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, and defence 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, Mr Trump invited no Democratic members of Congress or journalists, said a White House official familiar with the arrangements. But at least one Democrat will be in the crowd: The office of Louisiana governor 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. Mr 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 (Mr Trump likes wedge salads and chocolate cake) and poured into glasses, who sits next to whom, who performs after dinner and what the decor looks like.
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 mr Trump’s politics in refusing to dress the current 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. The last time a Republican president hosted his French counterpart was November 2007 when President George W Bush welcomed the newly divorced Nicolas Sarkozy.
When Mr Macron’s limousine first pulls up the White House driveway on Tuesday morning, Mr Trump, the first lady, White House and administration officials, and hundreds of invited guests will be waiting on the South Lawn.
The pomp-filled arrival ceremony is for the man who became the youngest president in French history when he was elected in 2017 aged 39 on his first run for office.
The visit also offers Mr Macron his first Oval Office meeting and a joint White House news conference with Mr Trump. There’s also a State Department lunch hosted by vice president Mike Pence before Mr Macron and his wife arrive for the state dinner.