WASHINGTON — After a three-year hiatus, the White House will once again host an official state dinner, using the occasion to smooth over differences with America’s oldest ally, France.
President Joe Biden will welcome his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, on Thursday night for a pageantry-filled ritual that has been yet another victim of pandemic lockdowns.
The head-to-head diplomacy actually began Wednesday night, when Biden and first lady Jill Biden joined Macron and his wife, Brigitte, for dinner at Fiola Mare, a posh restaurant on the Georgetown waterfront whose specialty is Italian food. A cheep posted on Biden’s account showed the two leaders with spoons in hand over what appears to be dessert, seated across from the first ladies at an oval table.
But the formal state dinner is the centerpiece of Macron’s visit, a chance for the two men to toast each other and their respective countries and strengthen ties that have frayed amid disputes over trade and national security. They will dine on butter-poached Maine lobster, beef with shallot jam and artisan American cheeses, a menu chosen with scrupulous attention to the palates of the guests.
“Any time you go to dinner at someone’s house and they ask you if you have any dietary restrictions, think of a state visit,” Rufus Gifford, the US chief of protocol, said in an interview. «That’s the case, and something else.»
The dinner is also a chance for Biden to mend a strained relationship of a different kind: Democratic donors and fundraisers have complained that his presidency has largely ignored them. As he looks toward a potential re-election bid, Biden is stepping up his pitches to people who will help finance a 2024 campaign. Among those receiving the coveted dinner invitations are Christopher Korge, chairman of the National Committee’s finance committee. Democrat, and Virginia McGregor, national vice president of finance, said people familiar with the guest list.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, was also invited to attend, according to a person familiar with her schedule.
More of Biden’s longtime supporters are expected to attend Macron’s arrival ceremony on Thursday morning on the South Lawn of the White House. After greeting his counterpart, Biden will take him to the Oval Office for a meeting where they are expected to discuss Russia’s war with Ukraine, threats posed by China and a stubborn set of differences between the United States and its European allies. They will then hold a joint press conference.
“It makes sense for Biden to reach out to the French in this way,” said Daniel Fried, a former assistant secretary of state for Europe in the George W. Bush administration. «The Americans and the French can go crazy, but we need each other.»
“The Biden administration rightly understands that to deal with China and Russia, the two authoritarian powers, you need a strong Europe with you,” he added. «You need France.»
Macron has made clear his dissatisfaction with one of Biden’s signature legislative achievements, the Cut Inflation Act, which spends hundreds of billions of dollars to combat climate change. The measure includes a series of subsidies, incentives and requirements aimed at moving the production of electric vehicles and their components to North America. Macron and other world leaders fear the new law will penalize European companies and represent protectionist trade policy. Meeting privately with lawmakers on Wednesday, Macron called the move «super aggressive.» reported Reuters.
It seems doubtful that he will find much sympathy among US lawmakers eager to create more jobs at home.
Rep. Dan Kildee, D.-Mich., said in an interview that “our European partners have long been involved in substantial investments in their own production technologies. And that’s a good thing. But the United States cannot being in a position where we have to be consigned to the role of consumer in the global economy. We went too long without investing in our own productive capacity”.
Nor does Biden appear to be giving up much ground on this front. Speaking in Michigan on Tuesday, he didn’t sound the least bit defensive as he described his efforts to expand manufacturing jobs in the United States, even if it comes at the expense of other nations. He mentioned that both China and Europe are «a little bit upset» but went on to say that the US does not want to be «hostage» to supply chain disruptions that have made it difficult for Americans to buy goods during the pandemic.
“We’re going to be the supply chain,” he said, sounding a triumphant note. “And the difference will be that we will make that supply chain available to the rest of the world.”
One counter-argument the Biden administration is likely to make to Macron is that Europe will benefit from large-scale investments in alternative energy. In response to a question from NBC News, John Kirby, a White House National Security Council spokesman, said Wednesday that «a clean energy transition is a rising tide that really lifts all boats, and that’s how we see it.» ”.
Another point of disagreement with Macron concerns a submarine deal last year that Biden has acknowledged was «clumsy» in its execution. France was surprised by the US sale of nuclear-powered submarines to Australia. In doing so, the Biden administration cut out France, which it had thought would make the sale.
The state dinner may be the Biden administration’s way of apologizing for an unforced error of such magnitude, Fried said.
“That was bad diplomatic practice,” he said. After that, we owed the French.
State dinners often reflect the personal tastes and political needs of the first family. The tradition of honoring a visiting head of state began when President Ulysses S. Grant hosted King Kalākaua of Hawaii in 1874.
At the last state dinner in 2019 at which then-Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison was the guest of honour, Donald Trump’s guests included Lou Dobbs and Maria Bartiromo of Fox News, the conservative network important to Trump’s rise.
Trump also invited Macron to a state dinner in 2018, though his tenure was marked by a dismissive approach to European allies that he saw as exploiting American trade practices.
Biden hopes to send a different message, assuring Macron that regardless of the squabbles of the moment, France is a long-lasting partner.
“There have been chapters, some very recently, where we don’t necessarily treat our allies with dignity and respect,” Gifford said. «This dinner will focus a lot on the historic relationship between France and the United States, but also on the future.»