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Trump’s First State Dinner: Cherry Blossoms, Clinton China but No Democrats From Congress

Trump’s First State Dinner: Cherry Blossoms, Clinton China but No Democrats From Congress


Much of the planning for Mr. Macron’s arrival on Monday and the Tuesday dinner — components of the most high-profile affair a first lady can pull off — has fallen to a small East Wing staff of 10 people. They add up to 14 if you count the four aides in the White House Visitors Office and 15 if you count the first lady. Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a former Vogue operative known for marshaling the annual Met Gala in New York, and whose official contract with the East Wing ended earlier this year, did not comment when asked about whether she had offered a hand, except to say Mrs. Trump “has got this as always.”

In interviews, several of the first lady’s media-skittish East Wing aides, including Rickie Niceta, the White House social secretary; Daniel Fisher, the director of the Visitors Office; and Lindsay Reynolds, Mrs. Trump’s chief of staff, said they were bracing for criticism. But Mrs. Trump, who declined to be interviewed, has instructed her staff not to agonize over details and to stay focused, even amid swirling headlines about the Russia investigation and Stormy Daniels, the pornographic film actress who was paid hush money during the 2016 presidential campaign to keep quiet about a sexual encounter she has said she had with President Trump, which he denies.

Stephanie Grisham, Mrs. Trump’s communications director, was characteristically defensive on behalf of the first lady, saying the small team had learned to weather negative feedback as part of the job. “We’re probably not going to get the credit we deserve,” she said in an interview. “But I know this team is great and she knows this team is great. We have not failed, and she has not failed.”

The guest list has been so tightly controlled and debated that there was some private concern among aides that Mr. Trump would throw out an invitation to a Mar-a-Lago buddy or two. Some tried to keep close watch over his kibitzing with guests during Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan’s visit to Palm Beach, Fla., last week, according to two people familiar with the planning.

In the end, the list was so small that after the must-invite American government officials and the large French delegation, there was room for the president to personally invite only four people, according to a White House official. Keeping with tradition, not all cabinet members are expected to attend, although Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and his wife, Louise Linton, made the cut.

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Among those who helped with the planning were, from left, Rickie Niceta, the White House social secretary; Daniel Fisher, the director of the Visitors Office; Stephanie Grisham, Mrs. Trump’s communications director; and Lindsay Reynolds, Mrs. Trump’s chief of staff.

Credit
Doug Mills/The New York Times

There will be subtle hints at bipartisanship in the décor: Along with 1,200 Obama-inspired cherry blossom branches to decorate the Cross Hall, Mrs. Trump will use china from the Clinton White House.

The full guest list is expected to be released on Tuesday, right before the start of the dinner. The list traditionally includes a handful of lawmakers, along with the president’s chief of staff and national security adviser, and at least two Supreme Court justices, according to Lea Berman, who was the White House social secretary during the George W. Bush administration.

“Where it goes from there,” Ms. Berman said, “it’s a way of reading the tea leaves of who’s in with the Trumps. It will be interesting to see how many family members make the cut.”

Aides within the East and West Wings say planning such a detailed event has been well within Mrs. Trump’s comfort zone, and that she has grown comfortable with her role over time.

“She is very organized,” Ms. Niceta said, “and she is very exact in how she wants something. There is no wavering.”

Mrs. Trump chose white sweet peas and white lilacs for the tables in the State Dining Room, and it was the first lady’s idea, Ms. Niceta said, to host Mr. Macron and his wife, Brigitte, for a private dinner on Monday evening at Mount Vernon. The estate was home to America’s first president, George Washington, who hosted the Marquis de Lafayette there years after the two fought as allies in the Revolutionary War.

The White House has searched for ways to increasingly warm up a relationship between two leaders that is at its heart a pragmatic one: East Wing aides arranged a helicopter tour for Mr. Macron on Monday so that he could get a bird’s-eye view of a city designed by the French-born Pierre Charles L’Enfant on the way to Mount Vernon.

Few of Mr. Trump and Mr. Macron’s interactions will be observed by the public during the visit, but there will be one that will indicate if discussions have gone well, according to Ms. Berman.

“The toast will reflect how the day has gone,” Ms. Berman said. “You can usually tell from the toasts if they’re really getting along or not.”

As for Mrs. Trump’s ability to strengthen diplomatic ties with the Macrons, Ms. Reynolds, Mrs. Trump’s chief of staff and a former aide in the Bush White House, said she has learned over the past year that the first lady does not require as much direction as she initially expected.

When Mrs. Trump took the Japanese prime minister’s wife, Akie Abe, on a tour of the Henry Morrison Flagler Museum in Palm Beach last week, for instance, Ms. Reynolds killed time in the gift shop.

“I realized very quickly I was getting in her way” with early attempts to direct the first lady on protocol during diplomatic visits, Ms. Reynolds said. “She’s perfectly fine.”





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