Obama appears at Kenyan state dinner at White House

Obama appears at Kenyan state dinner at White House

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Former President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Antony Blinken attend an official state dinner in honor of President Ruto at the White House in Washington, May 23, 2024.


The guest list at Thursday’s White House state dinner included celebrities, politicians and allies of the president, as President Joe Biden and first lady Dr. Jill Biden rolled out the red carpet for the Kenyan president, William Ruto, and the first lady, Rachel Ruto.

Former President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, actor LeVar Burton, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries were among those distinguished guests at the official state dinner, in which former President Barack Obama participated. a brief surprise appearance.

“There is a bright light in the White House tonight,” Biden told Kenya’s president during his toast at the state dinner. “Jill and I are honored to have you here.”

He then joked that “many members of the African diaspora” were at Thursday’s gala event, including Obama, who “just left.” Biden added that Obama has been “very gracious” and met with Ruto on Thursday morning.

The former president was not on the initial state dinner guest list released by the White House. He attended a reception in the Blue Room before dinner and stopped briefly in the dining area, according to his office. Obama, whose father was born in Kenya, visited the country as president in 2015 and returned in 2018 after leaving office.

Biden added that the United States has “strong respect” for Kenya and recalled when former President Jimmy Carter hosted Kenyan leaders for the first time.

He concluded with an Irish toast, saying in part “until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand, for Kenya, for our guests.”

During his toast, Ruto asked attendees to raise a glass to the “continued well-being and long life” of President Biden and the first lady.

A state visit is one of the most important diplomatic tools a White House can employ to honor a major ally, and the meticulously planned event comes as Biden seeks to emphasize the strong alliance between the two countries.

Hollywood was also present at Thursday’s dinner: Actors Wilmer Valderrama and Sean Penn were among the guests, and Burton told reporters it’s his first state dinner.

The dinner would be held in a “transparent pavilion” on the South Lawn, the first lady’s office said ahead of the event, which would be adorned with more than 1,000 candles. Guests were expected to be served three courses: the first was a cold traditional tomato soup. The main course of Thursday’s dinner was a “best of both worlds” duo: butter-poached lobster and smoked beef short ribs, according to White House executive chef Cris Comerford.

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NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and his wife, television producer Jane Skinner Goodell, arrive at the White House Booksellers Room for the State Dinner with the President of Kenya at the White House in Washington, DC, on May 23, 2024.

Sports commissioners Goodell and Silver were among the guests at Thursday night’s state dinner. The NFL hosted a talent identification camp in Kenya last year as it sought to expand its “NFL Africa” program, according to a press release at the time. NBA Africa has a “subsidiary” in Kenya that opened in November 2023, according to the league.

Philanthropist Melinda French Gates and former Meta COO Sheryl Sandberg were also among the guests at Thursday’s dinner.

Country star Brad Paisley and the Howard Gospel Choir provided the entertainment at the glitzy event. Paisley donned a white cowboy hat as he entered the White House Thursday night.

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Country star Brad Paisley and his wife, actress Kimberly Williams-Paisley, arrive in the Booksellers Room of the White House for the State Dinner with the President of Kenya at the White House in Washington, DC, on the 23rd May 2024.

Some members of Congress were also invited to the dinner, including Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Verónica Escobar of Texas, as well as Republican Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas.

The Rev. Al Sharpton was a guest at the dinner and told reporters that “democracy will win in 2024” when asked if the president would win re-election.

CNN’s Bianna Golodryga was a guest at Thursday’s dinner, as were Lester Holt of NBC News and Darlene Superville of the Associated Press.

This visit marks the first time a U.S. president has hosted an African leader on a state visit since February 2008, when President George W. Bush hosted the president of Ghana. Thursday’s dinner is the sixth state dinner Biden has hosted since he became president.

This story and headline have been updated with additional news.

CNN’s Besty Klein and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.