“The President and First Lady have decided not to participate in this year’s activities to allow the honorees to celebrate without any political distraction,” a statement from the White House read.
The decision came after some honorees said they would boycott the White House reception. Dancer and choreographer Carmen de Lavallade and television writer and producer Norman Lear said they would not be attending that part of the event.
“In light of the socially divisive and morally caustic narrative that our existing leadership is choosing to engage in, and in keeping with the principles that I and so many others have fought for, I will be declining the invitation to attend the reception at the White House,” de Lavallade said in a statement last week.
Another honoree, musician and record producer Lionel Richie, said on NBC’s “Today” show last week that he was unsure whether he would go.
Meanwhile, singer-songwriter and actress Gloria Estefan and hip-hop artist and actor LL Cool J are both expected to attend this year’s festivities.
The White House’s announcement comes after a week of political instability following the racial unrest in Charlottesville last Saturday. Trump was widely criticized by Democratic and Republican leaders for his response to the deadly clashes there, for which he said both white supremacists and counterprotesters were responsible.
And on Friday, White House chief strategist Steve Bannon was fired — the latest of a number of high-profile West Wing exits in recent months.
Kennedy Center Chairman David M. Rubenstein and President Deborah F. Rutter said in a statement Saturday that the center “respects the decision made today by the office of the President of the United States. In choosing not to participate in this year’s Honors activities, the Administration has graciously signaled its respect for the Kennedy Center and ensures the Honors gala remains a deservingly special moment for the Honorees. We are grateful for this gesture.”
A Kennedy Center official said this will be the fourth instance of a President not attending the event. President Jimmy Carter skipped it in 1979, President H.W. Bush in 1989 and President Bill Clinton in 1994. However, those presidents came during other years while they were in office, the official said.
In its statement, the White House said, “First Lady Melania Trump, along with her husband President Donald J. Trump, extend their sincerest congratulations and well wishes to all of this year’s award recipients for their many accomplishments.”