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White House Celebrates Kenya with State Dinner with Sunset Views and Celebrity Power

WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House on Thursday state dinner honoring the president of Kenya William Ruto It treated around 500 guests to stunning views of DC, a spectacular menu, a dose of famous star power, and even a little family drama.

“I look forward to all the conversations,” Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar declared upon arriving, no doubt speaking for many guests at one of the largest state dinners ever held at the White House.

country singer Brad Paisley he appeared in his trademark cowboy hat and wore two hats as a dinner guest and featured artist. He joked that a pavilion made largely of glass that was erected on the South Lawn for the dinner was the most elegant greenhouse in the world, and then began his set with his hits “American Saturday Night” and “This is Country Music.”

Singer-songwriter Don McLean attended the festivities, as did Barbara Kingsolver, author of “The Poisonwood Bible,” set in Africa. When she was asked what inspired her about the continent, Kingsolver replied: “Everything.”

Former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms brought her 16-year-old son, but she confessed to reporters that he didn’t want to hold her hand. New Jersey Democratic Senator Cory Booker brought out her mother and pronounced her “the greatest woman in the world.”

The dinner entertainment mixed Paisley country music and the Howard University gospel choir. It was designed with the tastes of Ruto and his wife, Rachel, in mind, and first lady Jill Biden noted the Rutos’ “love of gospel and country music.” Kenya’s president is a former evangelist and often leads songs of praise and worship when he speaks at churches in his country.

He menu It included fruit wood-smoked beef short ribs, poached lobster, cold traditional tomato soup, and a basket of white chocolate.

Guests arrived on the red carpet at an entrance adorned with red roses and hot pink orchids as Toto’s hit “Africa” played on the violin. The extra-long guest list required taking some shortcuts: The typical presidential reception line was eliminated because it would have taken too long to get everyone through.

The Rev. Al Sharpton and Aisha McShaw arrive in the White House bookstore area for the state dinner hosted by President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden for Kenyan President William Ruto and Kenyan first lady Rachel Ruto, the Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Washington.  (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

The Rev. Al Sharpton and Aisha McShaw arrive in the White House bookstore area for the state dinner hosted by President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden for Kenyan President William Ruto and Kenyan first lady Rachel Ruto, the Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Barbara Kingsolver and Steven Hopp arrive in the White House bookstore area for the state dinner hosted by President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden for Kenyan President William Ruto and Kenyan First Lady Rachel Ruto, Thursday, 23 May 2024, in Washington.  (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Barbara Kingsolver and Steven Hopp arrive in the White House bookstore area for the state dinner hosted by President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden for Kenyan President William Ruto and Kenyan First Lady Rachel Ruto, Thursday, 23 May 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Actor LeVar Burton, of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and “Reading Rainbow,” joked that his word of the day for the modern political climate was “full of possibilities,” but clarified that he meant it was full of “possibilities.” ”. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was there, as was his NBA counterpart, Adam Silver, who declared, “We need another basketball court in the White House.”

Former President Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary, were present, as was another former president, Barack Obama, who stopped by briefly earlier in the evening but did not stay. During his toast to Ruto, President Joe Biden joked that those in attendance included “many members of the African diaspora, one who just left, Barack.”

Hillary Clinton said it was “wonderful to be back.” Her husband told reporters that he especially liked “the girl behind you,” pointing to a portrait on the wall of his wife from her first lady days.

The meeting was first state dinner at the White House for an African nation since 2008and it was the sixth and largest of the state dinners hosted by Biden.

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden welcome Kenyan President William Ruto and first lady Rachel Ruto to the White House in Washington for a state dinner, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (AP Photo /Susan Walsh)

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden welcome Kenyan President William Ruto and first lady Rachel Ruto to the White House in Washington for a state dinner, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (AP Photo /Susan Walsh)

LeVar Burton and Stephanie Cozart Burton arrive in the White House bookstore area for the state dinner hosted by President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden for Kenyan President William Ruto and Kenyan first lady Rachel Ruto, Thursday May 23, 2024, in Washington.  .  (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

LeVar Burton and Stephanie Cozart Burton arrive in the White House bookstore area for the state dinner hosted by President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden for Kenyan President William Ruto and Kenyan first lady Rachel Ruto, Thursday May 23, 2024, in Washington. . (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

The event was part of the administration’s efforts to build ties with Africa. Biden he did not keep his promise to visit the continent last year, but this week said he plans to visit “in February, after he is re-elected,” a sign of optimism about his prospects in november elections.

Ruto makes three-day state visit that coincides with his East African nation prepares to deploy forces to Haitipart of a UN-led effort to try to calm a growing security crisis there.

Biden said the United States and Kenya “share a strong respect for the history that unites us.”

In his toast, Ruto said: “We are proud to take a firm stand, shoulder to shoulder, for democracy in a world where troubles have shaken the faith of men.”

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden welcome Kenyan President William Ruto and first lady Rachel Ruto to the White House in Washington for a state dinner, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (AP Photo /Susan Walsh)

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden welcome Kenyan President William Ruto and first lady Rachel Ruto to the White House in Washington for a state dinner, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (AP Photo /Susan Walsh)

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego and Mark Weinberg arrive at the White House Bookstore Area for the State Dinner hosted by President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden for Kenyan President William Ruto and Kenyan First Lady Rachel Ruto , on Thursday, May 23, 2024. , in Washington.  (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego and Mark Weinberg arrive at the White House Bookstore Area for the State Dinner hosted by President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden for Kenyan President William Ruto and Kenyan First Lady Rachel Ruto , on Thursday, May 23, 2024. , in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Other actors present were Wilmer Valderrama, Sean Penn and Michaela Coel. But even celebrities felt a wow factor. Coel, wearing a red and gold dress lent to her by a Sudanese friend, said it was “my first time in Washington; the closest I’ve been to this is ‘Hamilton,’ the musical.”

NBC news anchor Lester Holt said it was his second state dinner and joked, “I don’t go out much.”

Other attendees included former “Top Chef” contestant Kwame Onwuachi and top Democratic donor Mark Gallogly. Sheryl Sandbergwho helped transform Facebook from a technology startup to a digital one advertising empirephilanthropist Melinda Gates and Hunter Biden, the president’s son, who will be tried next month on gun charges in Delaware and in federal tax charges In September they were also there.

Upon arrival, the Rev. Al Sharpton, a longtime prominent Democratic voice and former presidential candidate, was asked about Biden’s chances against his predecessor and the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. donald trump. He responded that “democracy is going to win in the 24th” and added that Africa has not been properly recognized on the world stage, which he said made Thursday night’s dinner especially important.

The decor featured fuchsia and violet African orchids and American roses. This is a couple that symbolizes the enduring friendship between the United States and Kenya, Jill Biden said, recalling her own visit to Kenya as part of a five-day, two-country African tour in 2023. route.

Guests dined in the sprawling, see-through pavilion intended to offer panoramic views of the sun setting over the Washington Monument and, later, the stars above. More than 1,000 candles were placed along the walls of the pavilion, while a suspended centerpiece with 15,000 layered reflective metal strips was there to amplify the candlelight.

Sean Penn and Ann Lee arrive in the White House bookstore area for the state dinner hosted by President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden for Kenyan President William Ruto and Kenyan First Lady Rachel Ruto, Thursday, Oct. 23. May 2024, in Washington.  (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Sean Penn and Ann Lee arrive in the White House bookstore area for the state dinner hosted by President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden for Kenyan President William Ruto and Kenyan First Lady Rachel Ruto, Thursday, Oct. 23. May 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Don McLean and Paris Dunn arrive in the White House bookstore area for the state dinner hosted by President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden for Kenyan President William Ruto and Kenyan First Lady Rachel Ruto, Thursday, the 23rd. May 2024, in Washington.  (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Don McLean and Paris Dunn arrive in the White House bookstore area for the state dinner hosted by President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden for Kenyan President William Ruto and Kenyan First Lady Rachel Ruto, Thursday, the 23rd. May 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

The last time Kenya had a state dinner at the White House was in 2003. No African nation has had one since President George W. Bush honored Ghanaian President John Kufuor five years later.

The Bidens previously hosted post-pandemic state dinners for France, South Korea and India, which were attended by nearly 400 guests from the Biden administration, as well as for Australia in October and Japan last month.

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Associated Press writer Evelyne Musambi contributed to this report from Nairobi, Kenya.

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