Washington, DC - Like millions of Americans across the nation, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama on Thursday evening celebrated Independence Day with a backyard barbecue. But theirs was for more than 1,200 guests, including active duty troops from every branch of the military and their families, as well as staff from across the Administration. (Above, the President and Mrs. Obama welcome guests, surrounded by service members)
Grammy award-winning band fun. gave a command performance sponsored by the USO, as did four different Marine Corps bands. The Fourth of July is also First Daughter Malia's birthday, and the newly minted 15-year-old got a mention from her father as he paid tribute to the troops, speaking from the bunting-swagged Truman Balcony.
"We hope everybody has a great time. We are incredibly grateful for your service, and we're thankful that you get a chance to spend the Fourth here with us," said President Obama.
"And by the way, it's Malia's birthday, so she is appreciative that you're all going to be wishing her happy birthday as well," he added, to cheers.
Like most of his guests, the President wore summer-casual clothes, appropriate for the steambath that is DC in mid-summer: A salmon-colored short-sleeved button down shirt and khaki trousers. Mrs. Obama wore a patriotic sleeveless summer shift with a white pattern that transformed into a blue pattern, and red ballet flats. Her hair was pulled back.
The party, which started in sunny and hot weather, also included games and face-painting for the kids, and a view of the fireworks over the National Mall after sundown.
Members of each branch of the military stood on the balcony with the President and Mrs. Obama as he welcomed guests. It was his first appearance in public since returning from his weeklong trip to Africa, and his first since the Egyptian military had taken over the government the previous day, ousting President Mohamed Morsi from power.
Earlier on Thursday the President huddled in the Situation Room for a holiday meeting with his National Security Council to discuss the fast-moving action, but during his picnic remarks he made no mention of the turmoil on the other side of the globe.
But the President did speak about the importance of democracy as he retold the story of the American Revolution that is now 237 years old.
"Those patriots knew there was a better way of doing things, that freedom was possible, and that to achieve their freedom they'd be willing to lay down their lives, their fortunes and their honor. And so they fought a revolution," President Obama said.
"And few would have bet on their side, but for the first time in many times to come, America proved the doubters wrong.
"And now, 237 years later, this improbable experiment in democracy, the United States of America, stands as the greatest nation on Earth," he continued to applause. "And what makes us great is not our size or our wealth, but our values and our ideals and the fact that we're willing to fight for them. A land of liberty and opportunity; a global defender of peace and freedom; a beacon of hope for people everywhere who cherish those ideals."
"You, the fighting men and women of the United States and those who came before you, you've played a special role," President Obama said.
"You've defended our nation at home and abroad, you fought for our nation's beliefs to make the world a better and safer place. People, in scattered corners of the world, are free to write their own futures because of you."
The President got cheers as he ticked off the names of each branch of the military, including the National Guard. Joining him on the balcony were heroes selected for extraordinary performance in the line of duty, and each got a mention from the President: Army Specialist Heidi Olson; Navy Petty Officer Joe Marcinkowski; Air Force Staff Sergeant Adam Ybarra; Marine Corporal Amber Fifer; and Coast Guard Petty Officer Randy Haba.
"Every day, men and women like them--and like all of you --are carrying forward the ideals that inspired that American Dream 237 years ago. Defending our nation and our freedoms with strength and with sacrifice is your daily charge," the President said.
"On behalf of all Americans, I want to say thank you and wish you all a very, very happy Fourth of July. You've earned it. So, God bless you. God bless your families. God bless the United States of America."
After his remarks, the President and Mrs. Obama descended the steps to the South Lawn and spent about fifteen minutes working the ropeline, shaking hands with their guests and posing for pictures. Both were seen holding a baby dressed in a red, white and blue ensemble that featured a red headband.
"What's going on? You guys having fun?" said the smiling First Lady as she approached the rope line.
"Good to see you guys...thanks for your service everybody. Proud of you," the President said as he followed, clasping hands with guests.
As the First Lady paused to pose for photos with one guest, she was urged along by the President, who told her they've "got a long line" of people to meet. The First Couple worked their way toward the West Wing and returned back inside after about fifteen minutes, at 6:24 PM. The President and Mrs. Obama later watched the fireworks from the roof of the mansion, according to a photo released by the White House. The annual July 4th portrait by chief photographer Pete Souza that shows the First Couple silhouetted against the fireworks for the first time this year included Malia with her parents (above).
fun. and Lena Dunham...
During their USO-sponsored "Salute to the Military" concert, fun. performed hits from their Grammy-winning album, including "We Are Young," "Some Nights," and "Carry On."
In January, fun. was invited by President Obama to perform at the 2013 Presidential Inaugural Ball, said the USO. (Above, fun. in action before the sun went down)
Past performers for the President's holiday picnic have included the Foo Fighters, and the Killers; country star Brad Paisley performed last year. The President's remarks, the performance and the fireworks were livestreamed at WH.gov.
There was one celebrity at the picnic: Lena Dunham, creator and star of the hit HBO series Girls, who is dating Jack Antonoff, guitarist for fun.. An ardent supporter of the President's re-election bid, Dunham during election season filmed a get-out-the-vote video in which she likened voting to losing one's virginity. Dunham tweeted an Instagram of herself at the picnic with Antonoff, writing "Happy 4th of July, from our family to yours!" (Dunham's Instagram, above)
The Marine bands that performed included "The President's Own" Marine Band, the Marine Dixieland Band, the Marine Marching Band and Free Country, the country music ensemble.
*The transcript of the President's remarks.
bove, the President earlier in the day, meeting with the NSC in the Situation Room, in a photo released by the White House.
*Fireworks and Situation Room photos by Pete Souza/White House. Fun. and floral photo by @The_USO; Dunham photo via @LenaDunham. Other photos by pool. White House videos.