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Speaker Boehner Declines Third Straight Obama State Dinner

3 years ago
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In May 2007, then-House Minority Leader John Boehner and his wife, Deborah, attended a glittery White House state dinner for Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip hosted by President and Mrs. Bush. The dress for men was white tie and tailcoat, more formal than the customary tuxedo.

Cabinet members, business leaders, diplomats and politicians -- Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott, a Republican, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat -- were also there, along with former First Lady Nancy Reagan, golfer Arnold Palmer and jockey Calvin Borel, who rode the 2007 Kentucky Derby winner.

Fast forward to November 2009, May 2010 and this week.

The same John Boehner who toasted the queen in 2007 has since refused all three state dinner invitations from Democratic President Barack Obama for key U.S. allies: Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Mexican President Felipe Calderon and, on Wednesday night, President Hu Jintao of China.

"Speaker Boehner will have a substantive meeting with President Hu later this week," his spokesman, Michael Steel, told me by e-mail. (It's set for Thursday on Capitol Hill.)
But the speaker's press office did not address questions of why Boehner declined all three Obama state dinners, or whether he believes nothing meaningful can be achieved by spending social time with world leaders and their delegations.

He "doesn't necessarily believe in all the pomp and circumstance of Washington," former Republican National Commitee spokesman Doug Heye told Politico, which broke the 3-for-3 state dinner boycott story.

To be fair, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid sent regrets to that 2007 dinner for the queen because "his office said he didn't have white tie," recalled Anita McBride, then-chief of staff to Laura Bush.

But in the world of protocol and etiquette, "You really have to be sick, dead or dying to regret a state dinner invitation," McBride noted.

"I hate to think it would be pettiness: 'I don't like the president so I am not coming,'" said a former social secretary in a Republican White House, who requested anonymity. "I think you can assume that the administration, when they have a state dinner, wants to show a bipartisan face" to foreign leaders. Some lawmakers "might be uncomfortable in black tie or white tie, they might be uncomfortable with the positions of the administration."

They may also object to the policies of the visiting head of state, or not want to be seen as part of the Washington establishment, said the former social secretary. "There is not Republican who couldn't benefit from sitting next to a Vernon Jordan," one of the city's Democratic power brokers and political wise men.

On the other hand, it is important for every White House to invite the opposition, she said. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) was not among the chosen, his office confirmed.

Forgetting partisanship for an evening has its advantages for everyone, said McBride. "I don't want to second-guess the speaker but one of the things I have learned is that those parties historically are a very important part of a diplomatic effort. There is a lot of work that gets done in social situations, a lot of work on the part of government and business leaders . . . This is one thing where I say I'd take a page out of the Nancy Pelosi book. She never regretted an invitation with President Bush, with whom she had major policy differences."


Turning down such invitations, especially by someone who is third in line for the presidency, is a big mistake, says Letitia Baldridge, who was President Kennedy's social secretary. "I think it's short-sighted and a failing of his duty." Yes, there were Democrats and Republicans who brushed off Kennedy state dinners without explanation, but Baldridge, who says she's given protocol advice to five first ladies, called such behavior "so conceited of the person." Not attending a state dinner "is his loss because he is losing out on a very special moment in history."

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265 Comments

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The Big DF

Perhaps President Obama should invite Mr. Boehner to play a round of golf with him. The Speaker would find an invitation like that hard to refuse! A free round of golf paid for by someone other than the Lobbyists!

January 23 2011 at 10:22 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
Jackie

It might be remotely OK to turn down one White House invitation, but not three. Boehner forgets that his JOB requires him to attend social events, since a surprising amount of actual work gets done at state dinners. Political differences between parties aside, his JOB is to represent his constituents, first and foremost, and if his constituents lose out on beneficial contracts, etc., because he was too full of himself to attend, I hope that they remember that the next time that they are in the voting booth! He needs to remember that, political rhetoric aside, he works for the people of his state and district FIRST, not the GOP.

January 22 2011 at 4:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
WD Simmons

The man is the speaker of the house and did not attend. He is living up to his reputation for being lazy and not wanting to do the work. He and McConnell are not even wating time by trying to pretend that they want to help this president to keep moving forward. They don't like Obama and they don't care who knows it. That's okay, real leaders like Harry Reid and nancy Pelosi were there to back up the president. Reid even met with Hu. Some folks are just petty and they know that their party will let them get away it.

January 20 2011 at 3:23 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
MaryLou

I would not go either- the working people of China are very mis-treated and have very few rights. This is not what I think the USA should be supporting, in my opinion. Plus they are not even sure if Hu Jintao is the President. He did not even know about the much publized testing of a Stealth.

January 19 2011 at 7:30 PM Report abuse -5 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to MaryLou's comment
Kathy

Oh sure...but their money is good as gold to the Americans.

January 20 2011 at 12:31 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Jackie

Umm... you seem to forget that President Bush made a very public trip TO China for the Olympics at a time when human rights issues there were INTERNATIONAL news. You do not change how a country handles their people by turning your back on them...you change it by example. Of course, considering the millions in this country who are getting short shrift by our own government, from the victims of the oil spill to the victims of Katrina, not to mention the estimated 39 million without even basic health care, and on top of that, how our politicians scream and shout and call each other names, perhaps we don't offer a very good example, either.

January 22 2011 at 4:53 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
nitztalker

No one thinks the Speaker of the House works for the President, you idiot. He works for THE PEOPLE. There is a certain amount of decorum that comes with the job and that is to attend state functions, to attend a memorial service for your own fallen colleague instead of choosing to go to a party and to behave with civility even if you don't want to. Boehner acts like some spoiled,cry baby kindergartner. We all know the real reason Boehner has refused these invitations.
When you are 2nd in line to the presidency you need to use some manners and not act like an ignorant fool. Arrogance laced with ignorance is very ugly.
There seems to be a lot of that going on these days.

January 19 2011 at 6:43 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to nitztalker's comment
WD Simmons

You called it.

January 20 2011 at 3:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jackie

third in line, actually.

January 22 2011 at 4:54 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
leblancaj

Dear Anne, our nation is divided. ("He is not showing anyone in the world that we are a UNITED NATION not a divided one. I guess the talk for kindness and unity was to much for you to deal with? Makes me sad because I want our nation united and not divided anymore.") President Obama has made that very clear by taking official action against Arizona. Furthermore his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, actually filed a complaint with the UN against Arizona. Against those two incredible actions, demonstrating for the world that we are not united, Boehner's lack of interest is only noteworthy to the media.

January 19 2011 at 6:07 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
dmw1059

Maybe Boehner doesn't want to go in fear that the water-works might come into play! lol, he can just go and put his acting skills to use, this man really knows how to bring on the tears and dose it at the drop of a hat. Speaker of the house lol he's got that, now he'll be working on his Oscar!

January 19 2011 at 6:05 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
leblancaj

Good for him. Washington people tend to think of Washington events as being important, all Washington events, and especially those in the White House. Not everybody in the rest of the country agrees. Boehner went to one and perhaps that convinced him that his time would be better spent doing something else.

January 19 2011 at 6:03 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
R.H.

Maybe The Speaker was simply not interested in sitting down to dinner with a leader that is a socialist with delusions of grandeur and maybe he didn't want to sit down with the Chinese President either

January 19 2011 at 5:39 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
snorinlorin

Hey John ! When that one term wonder asks you about not attending his dinners, Just take a lesson form Maine Governor LePage and tell him to"kiss my Butt". and remember the old saying. As Maine Goes So Goes The Nation.

January 19 2011 at 5:23 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

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