Monday, February 24, 2014

"Make Yourselves At Home," Pres. Obama Tells 2016 Hopefuls At White House Governors' Dinner

POTUS offers a toast at the 6th annual black tie dinner
The President treats bipartisan state leaders to a formal gala with a performance by pop singer Sara Bareilles...and
urges an end-run around Congress...
Washington, DC - President Barack Obama on Sunday evening welcomed a bipartisan group of state leaders to the annual black-tie Governors' Dinner, telling his guests gathered in the State Dining room amidst candles and an orgy of red roses to "make yourselves at home."  

Visiting the nation's capital for the annual winter meeting of the National Governors' Association, many are considered contenders for their party's nomination for the 2016 presidential race.  That includes the two Republicans who were seated on either side of First Lady Michelle Obama, who wore a glittering gold and bronze beaded gown:  South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.  

"I am truly honored to be one of Michelle Obama’s guests tonight here at dinner," Mr. Obama quipped as he toasted the gathering shortly after 7:00 PM, standing at a podium bathed in lavender from the dramatic lighting that filled the room.

"Tonight, we want to make sure that all of you make yourselves at home, to which I’m sure some of you are thinking: That’s been the plan all along," Mr. Obama, added to appreciative laughter.

Vice President Joe Biden, who hasn't ruled out his own effort to claim the top job, was seated with Govs. Scott Walker (R-WI) and Deval Patrick (D-MA), both considered potential candidates. 

"But keep in mind what a wise man once wrote: 'I am more than contented to be governor, I shall not care if I never hold another office,'" Mr. Obama continued.  

"Of course, that was Teddy Roosevelt.  So I guess plans change," he added, to more laughter.

The President wore a dark tux with a shawl collar and a black silk tie.  He  and his wife were seated at different tables, with Mr. Obama's including fewer presidential hopefuls: Washington state's Gov. Jay Inslee (D) and his wife Trudi Inslee were among the guests.  

Mrs. Obama between Haley, l, and Pence

Missing from the dinner was the man who was until recently considered the frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination: New Jersey's Gov. Chris Christie, who chairs the Republican Governors Association.  Christie was at home celebrating his daughter's 18th birthday, according to an aide.  

The fete was the sixth the President and Mrs. Obama have hosted for the governors. They treated the crowd to a contemporary version of surf & turf:  Tuna Tartare with a Baby Arugula, Bartlett Pear and Caramel Black Walnut salad and an entree of Petit Filet with Maryland Crab Ravioli.  

Dessert was a Steamed Meyer Lemon Custard, all presented on the Ronald Reagan State China, perhaps in homage to California's most famous former governor. 

The President asked his guests, who listened from round, brocade-covered tables for ten, to help him make his hopes for a "year of action" a reality, and to do their best to circumvent Congressional gridlock to make 2014 a "breakthrough year for America."  He touted the importance of state-federal cooperation.

"Our partnership on behalf of the American people, on issues ranging from education to health care to climate change runs deep, deeper than what usually hits the front page," Mr. Obama said.

"When we’ve got a Congress that sometimes seems to have a difficult time acting, I want to make sure that I have the opportunity to partner with each of you in any way that I can to help more Americans work and study and strive, and make sure that they see their efforts and their faith in this country rewarded," he said.

"Our cooperation is vital to make sure that we’re doing right by the American people."

Healthcare has been the primary topic for the governors' annual meeting.  Mr. Obama gave NGA Chairman Mary Fallin (R-OK) a personal shout-out, noting he'd toured Moore with her after the devastating F5 tornado.  Massachusetts' Patrick, he said, joined him as he visited hospitalized survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing.  And Maryland's Martin O'Malley joined him at the Naval Academy graduation ceremony last Spring, Mr. Obama said.  NGA Vice Chair John Hickenlooper (D-CO) also got a nod.

POTUS toasts NGA Chair Fallin (R-OK)
"Mr. President, we appreciate the collaboration, the cooperation," Fallin said in a response toast.  "There may be times that we don't always see eye-to-eye, but we also respect the office of the president and all your cabinet officials that have joined us here tonight and we're deeply grateful for the opportunity to have a collaboration, to be able to talk and to be able to work on behalf of this great nation." 

As Fallin noted, top Administration officials were also among the guests. Gov. Rick Snyder (R-Mich) was seated beside Senior Advisor Valerie JarrettGov. Pat Quinn (D-Ill) sat with newly-minted White House political director David Simas.

"I thank President @BarackObama & @FLOTUS for their hospitality tonight. It's an honor to be among our nation's leaders at the @WhiteHouse," Quinn tweeted

Still, the White House released neither a head count nor a full guest list, and in fact has not released a full guest list for any of the Governors' Dinners since 2009.  But the State Dining Room seats a maximum of 124 guests comfortably, and the state leaders were accompanied by spouses or dates.

A long view of the State Dining Room
South Carolina's Haley hit the date theme as she tweeted a photo of herself and husband Michael Haley.  "Date night at the White House," Haley wrote.  Wisconsin's Walker brought his son Matt, and tweeted a photo with the Vice President, writing "Matt joined me for dinner at White House."

There was more fun after the dinner, when the Obamas entertained their guests with a command performance from pop singer Sara Bareilles in the East Room, lit red for the occasion.  She has performed at the White House before, and at Obama fundraisers. 

"Laughed and sang my way through the immense honor of singing at the White House tonight for @BarackObama, @FLOTUS, and distinguished guests," Bareilles tweeted after she had performed.  "Life is good," she added in another tweet.

POTUS toasts Gov. Inslee and his wife
The President and Vice President met with the Democratic Governors Association on Friday at the White House.  On Monday, they will address the full NGA membership at 11:00 AM in the State Dining Room.  

On Monday afternoon at 1:45 PM the President "will meet with governors of Western States to discuss drought and wildfires," the White House said.  The meeting in the Situation Room is closed press.   President Obama visited Fresno, California on Feb. 14, accompanied by Gov. Jerry Brown, to survey the drought-devastated San Joaquin Valley and announce a series of executive actions and federal aid funds

A White House photo of the place settings and flowers
The menu and decor...
The Obamas are beef lovers, and every year the governors' menu has featured an excellent cut of steak and some kind of seafood.  This year's menu by Executive Chef Cris Comerford was the same idea.  Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses created the dessert.  He has previously shared his recipe for Steamed Meyer Lemon Pudding.

The White House did not release the names of the wine(s) that were poured; the last time wines were identified on a menu for a Governors' Dinner was in 2010.

The Ronald Reagan State China has a wide red rim, former First Lady Nancy Reagan's favorite color, with a gold border.  Lush and dramatic floral arrangements featuring red roses and other red blooms with loose vines were on each table, as well as on fireplace mantles and windowsills.  Candles in over-sized gold votive holders or in tall crystal holders were intermixed on the tables.  Menus laid atop each place setting were cream card stock with a gold embossed Presidential seal.

2014 Governors' Dinner Menu

Tuna Tartare

Baby Arugula, Bartlett Pears and Caramel Black Walnuts

Petite Filet with Maryland Crab Ravioli

Warm Meyer Lemon Custard

>Wine Omitted<

An Instagram of the President's chair for Bareilles' performance
Chief White House photographer Pete Souza Instagrammed a photo of the President's program on a chair in the East Room for Bareilles' performance, writing "East Room. Guess who will sit here during the entertainment at the Governors Ball."  

Note: The White House press shop has not referred to the dinner as a "Ball" since 2009, though when Souza worked as Pres. Reagan's chief photographer, the Governors' annual gala was called a "Ball."

*The transcript of the President's remarks.
Related: The 2013 Governors' Dinner; the 2012 Governors' Dinner; The 2011 Governors' Dinner; the 2010 Governors' Dinner; and the 2009 Governors' Dinner.

*Pool photos; last two photos by Pete Souza/White House.  White House video.