WASHINGTON — A glittering crowd of American and Australian luminaries gathered under the stars in the White House Rose Garden Friday, resolutely “celebrating” even as serious matters of national security and politics loomed over host and President Donald Trump.
The president and first lady Melania Trump greeted Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his wife, Jenny, with handshakes and kisses on the Pennsylvania Avenue side of the mansion Friday evening. Meanwhile, the worlds of politics, media and even sports collided as a stream of administration members from both countries, aides, lawmakers and even golfer Greg Norman headed outside for the open-air dinner.
"I'm looking forward to celebrating tonight," said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C.
Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani was also among the more than 170 guests.
The Trumps welcomed the Morrisons earlier Friday for the state visit with a spirited arrival ceremony on the South Lawn. The welcome featured Marine band performances of the two nations' anthems, a 19-gun salute and inspection of U.S. troops. Hundreds of guests, including school children waving miniature Australian and American flags, were on hand to welcome them.
The prime minister is just the second foreign leader to receive the high diplomatic honor of a U.S. state visit during Trump's administration.
After the arrival ceremony, Trump and Morrison went inside to begin their talks, the wives repaired to the Green Room for tea and White House staff began the work of transforming the famous garden just outside the Oval Office into the best open-air dining venue in town — if only for one night.
Guests are sitting at a mix of round and rectangular tables draped in alternating yellow and green tablecloths in tribute to Australia's national colors and dine on sunchoke ravioli, Dover sole and apple tart a la mode. Temporary flooring was laid over the grass.
Dinner centerpieces feature more than 2,500 yellow California roses and Australia's national flower, the golden wattle, while the garden itself will be decorated with white and yellow roses. Musical groups from the U.S. military will provide entertainment.
"It's so beautiful and it will be so different," Trump said earlier about his first state dinner in more than a year, noting that he had watched a rehearsal. "And we look up to the skies and we're just going to hope that it's not going to rain. And if it is, that's OK, too, because that will work out also."
Morrison, who has been in office for a little over a year, thanked Trump for the "tremendous honor."
At an afternoon news conference in the grand East Room, Trump said he and the prime minister "talked about everything you can talk about," including military issues and trade. Morrison said he and the president share a "passion for jobs" and he commended Trump for his record on job creation.
On a big day for diplomacy, Morrison and his wife also worked in a State Department luncheon hosted by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Australia was last a recipient of a U.S. state visit in 2006, when President George W. Bush feted Prime Minister John Howard.
When it comes to state dinners, Trump seems to prefer being on the receiving end.
He's been the honored guest on state visits to Japan and Britain this year alone, in addition to other such visits in his first two years in office, including to Beijing on what China billed as a "state visit, plus."
Trump's first state visitor was French President Emmanuel Macron last year.