UPDATE 2: President thanks Govs for not trashing WH
UPDATE 1: First Lady on Oscars after dinner...
Amidst candlelight and roses, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama on Sunday evening hosted a glamorous party at the White House for America's state executives, welcoming them to the 2013 Governors' Dinner. A presidential tradition when the National Governors Association (NGA) holds its winter meeting in Washington, the First Couple has hosted the black tie dinner every year since President Obama took office. As they have each year, the First Couple feted their bipartisan guests with a menu of steak and seafood, with vegetables grown in the Kitchen Garden. Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden attended the first formal affair of the President's second term, as did top Administration officials. (Above, the President toasting)
"Michelle and I are so happy to host you, and we hope that you all get a chance to celebrate a little bit tonight," President Obama told his guests.
The President and Mrs. Obama entered the State Dining Room to applause at 7:17 PM, with the First Lady in a shimmering floor-length gown with grey and silver bead work, a custom creation by Indian-born American designer Naeem Khan, according to an East Wing spokesman. Mrs. Obama has worn gowns by the designer before, including to a State Dinner. Her hair was pulled back in a bun, and she wore large diamond earrings. (Above, Mrs. Obama and NJ Gov. Chris Christie)
Though the White House on Sunday released a report on the "devastating impact" of the sequester on the state level, the President made no mention of looming economic calamity from the scheduled $85 billion in cuts as he welcomed his guests, who included New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie--seated beside Mrs. Obama--and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who was ready to party, though she declined the President's 2012 dinner invitation as they battled over immigration law.
"Last year, I got to see firsthand some of the great work that our governors are helping to accomplish all across the country, " President Obama said as he stood at the eagle podium beneath the historic portrait of Abraham Lincoln.
"Now, it’s true that I had the chance to see some accomplishments in some states more than others--Ohio--Iowa --Colorado-- Virginia," he said to laughs, as he ticked off the names of the swing states where he battled for reelection. "But I hope to see more of you this year, the rest of you," he said.
The President paid tribute to his guests for steering their states through hard times, including "incredible natural disasters," and for making hard choices and wise investments.
"And that work is paying off," President Obama said. "Companies are bringing jobs back to our shores, new homes are popping up in our neighborhoods, small businesses are revitalizing our communities."
As of the November 2012 election, 31 of the Governors are Republican, and 20 are Democratic with two independents. The President said he is looking for "good partners" to rejuvenate America--"we know we’ve got more work to do"--and urged the state leaders to reach across party lines.
"Because while nobody in this room sees eye to eye on everything, we know that when we work together, Democrats and Republicans, north, south, east and west, we can accomplish so much more than we can on our own," President Obama said.
"We're stronger when we work together as a team."
Before raising a glass of white wine to toast, the President stumbled a bit as he quoted Woodrow Wilson, also a former Governor, he said: "America is nothing if it consists merely of each of us--It’s something only if it consists of all of us."
"And nearly one hundred years later, I expect that those words continue to be true, and they should be guiding all of our efforts," President Obama said.
Six new Governors took office after the 2012 election, and the President hailed them as he closed.
"To the good that we’ve accomplished together, for the good that’s yet to be done. I look forward to a year of progress working with all of you. I am grateful for your service. To those who were recently elected, congratulations. We look forward to seeing you again over the next several years."
The Governors were accompanied by spouses or significant others. The White House released no guest list, but pool spotted Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal--who spent part of Sunday tweeting blasts about the President and the sequester. Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer, and advisor Alan Krueger were also spotted mingling with guests. The Vice President table-hopped before the dinner began.
Delaware Gov. Jack Markell (D) is the current chair of the NGA, and gave the response toast, thanking President Obama "for your leadership and grit, for your belief in the American dream."
"On this one night it’s a relief--politics doesn’t drive the conversation," Markell said. "We don’t speak of partisan issues or presidential aspirations; instead, we gather to reflect on the blessings we’ve received--to serve our states and country the best it’s ever been conceived."
Markell also joked about Mrs. Obama's outing on Friday night with comic Jimmy Fallon, where the duo performed a comedic skit, the 'Evolution of Mom Dancing,' when Mrs. Obama appeared on Fallon's talk show to discuss her Let's Move! campaign.
"You’re probably jealous of the First Lady, she’s Jimmy Fallon’s trainer," Markell told the President, to laughter. "While you, on the other hand, deal with Leader Reid and Speaker Boehner."
He closed with: "We may come from the mountain states or from the South or plains or coast, we’re one country and one people, in important ways we are united, and for the chance to offer you our greatest thanks, I really am delighted."
Tony-award winning actor/singer Audra McDonald performed after the dinner during a reception in the East Room.
The menu and decor...
The steak-loving Obamas have served glorious Wagyu or dry-aged rib eye and a seafood accompaniment at each of their Governors' Dinners, and on Sunday they kept the tradition intact. The dinner opened with seafood cocktail followed by a "Seasonal Kitchen Garden Salad," and the entree was aged beef ribsteak. Dessert was a chocolate Opera Cake. (Above: The President sat beside Carla Markell, wife of the Delaware Governor)
The White House did not release the names of the wines that were poured with the courses, but it is a tradition to serve American wines.
Guests were seated at round tables for ten, with patterned green tablecloths and large candles in vermeil holders. Floral centerpieces were made of bright red, yellow, orange and maroon roses, mauve and purple ornamental cabbages, and berries. The same arrangements were on mantels and window sills.
2013 Governors' Dinner Menu
Seasonal Kitchen Garden Salad
Aged Beef Ribsteak
Chocolate Opera Cake
Seasonal Kitchen Garden Salad
Aged Beef Ribsteak
Chocolate Opera Cake
The President and Vice President met with members of the Democratic Governors Association on Friday morning at the White House. On Monday, they will meet with members of the NGA at the White House in the State Dining Room, according to Carney, and make remarks. Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden will also address the gathering to discuss job opportunities for veterans.
*The full transcript of the President's remarks.
Related: The 2012 Governors' Dinner; The 2011 Governors' Dinner; the 2010 Governors' Dinner; and the 2009 Governors' Dinner. Earth Wind & Fire (2009), Harry Connick, Jr. (2010), Gladys Knight (2011) and Dianne Reeves (2012) have each headlined the dinners.
*Updated from Friday, Feb. 22.