Kennedy Center Honors: President Trump does not have a substitute in attendance


There were no representatives of the Trump administration replacing President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump at the Kennedy Center Honors on Sunday night, when the National Arts Center presented its annual celebration of the show arts.

Members of the Trump administration attended, but none were sitting in the president's box at the Casa de la Ópera next to the honorees of 2017, who were presented individually: the singer-songwriter Gloria Estefan, the dancer Carmen de Lavallade, the producer Norman Lear, rapper and actor LL Cool J, and musician and producer Lionel Richie. The artists were joined by family members, David Rubenstein, president of the Kennedy Center Board, and President Deborah Rutter.

The White House announced in August that the Trumps would not attend the annual gala after several honorees said they would boycott Trump hosted at the White House. Trump responded by bowing, saying through a spokesman that they would not attend "to allow the honorees to celebrate without any political distraction."

The absence of Trump is notable for several reasons. The gala is a fundraising event for the national art center, and having a president sitting in attendance is a significant attraction. In addition, the lasting image of the televised event annually presents the first couple sitting next to the smiling honorees. This year, the performing arts celebration is broadcast on December 26 at 9 p.m. on CBS.

Previous presidents skipped the gala event for programming reasons, but not politics. President Jimmy Carter did not attend in 1979 due to the hostage crisis in Iran, and presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton were absent in 1989 and 1994, respectively, because they traveled through Europe. President Barack Obama arrived in late 2015 after giving a nationally televised speech. In each of those cases, the first lady served as a substitute for the president.

At the gala on Sunday, there was no host on stage either, since Stephen Colbert did not return for the fourth year.

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