President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump will skip the Kennedy Center Honors, one of the nation's highest-profile events honoring performing artists, after some awardees threatened to boycott a pre-ceremony reception at the White House.
The White House announced Saturday that the Trumps would not participate in the Dec. 3 event in Washington, D.C. to avoid "political distraction."
"The president and first lady have decided not to participate in this year's activities to allow the honorees to celebrate without any political distraction," press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement, adding that the president and Melania Trump "extend their sincerest congratulations and well wishes to all of this year's award recipients for their many accomplishments."
The Kennedy Center said that in addition to the Trumps' not attending, the traditional pre-ceremony reception at the White House was cancelled this year. The center seemed relieved by the president's decision, saying in a statement, "We are grateful for the gesture."
"The Kennedy Center respects the decision made by today by the president," said the statement tweeted by the center. "In choosing not to participate ... the administration has graciously signalled its respect for the Kennedy Center and ensures the Honors gala remains a deservingly special moment for the honorees."
The White House announcement follows reports that honoree Norman Lear, creator of such iconic TV shows as "All in the Family," said he would accept the award this year but not attend the White House reception in protest of the president's proposed funding cuts to the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Other 2017 honorees including musician Lionel Ritchie and singer Gloria Estefan have also suggested they were considering not attending.
“I am honored to accept the award," Lear told the Los Angeles Times on Aug. 4. "I could not respect the arts and humanities more, and I could not be more honored to be in the company that are being honored ... But I will not be going to the White House.”
In addition, on Friday, actor Kal Penn, artist Chuck Close and the entire membership of the largely inactive President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities resigned en masse, slamming the president's response to violence in Charlottesville last weekend.
"Ignoring your hateful rhetoric would have made us complicit in your words and actions," the letter signed by 16 of the committee's 17 members reads.
Past presidents have used the Kennedy Center Honors, now in its 40th year, as an opportunity to honor storied artists and entertainers with the White House reception followed by the president's attendance at a black-tie ceremony at the Kennedy Center.
Former president Jimmy Carter skipped in 1979 during the Iran hostage crisis, and former President Bill Clinton also skipped in 1994 as he embarked on a trip to Budapest for a security conference on Europe.
In December 2008, there was potential drama when Barbra Streisand, a liberal critic of President George W. Bush and the war in Iraq, was among the Kennedy Center honorees. She went to the White House for the reception, and Bush seemed to acknowledge her criticism in his remarks.
“Barbra is also a person with passionate convictions, and opinions that she is not afraid to share," Bush said. "I don’t know, at least that’s what they tell me. You know it kind of makes me think of another Barbara I know."
At the ceremony itself, the president even kissed her on her cheek, which Streisand recalled in a statement afterward.
“During the Kennedy Center Honors, President Bush gave me his signature wink (which he must have passed on to Sarah Palin) and mouthed, “We showed ’em.” Streisand said in a statement afterward. "I guess in some small way, he and I proved that we could agree to disagree, and, for that weekend, art transcended politics.”
It's not the first time Trump has bucked presidential tradition by skipping a potentially awkward event. In February, he made a point of not attending the White House Correspondents' Dinner.