WASHINGTON, D.C. — While Hollywood celebrates the Academy Awards, a different kind of celebrity gala event unfolded at the White House this evening: President Obama hosted the nation’s state governors for an annual black tie dinner.
The states’ top executives and their spouses were in town for the yearly National Governors Association weekend, a four-day conference where the leaders meet with federal officials and business executives to discuss issues facing the states. Tonight’s festivities with the president and first lady are a purely social event and not officially affiliated with the NGA. Regardless, it is often billed as a high point of the weekend activities.
The president praised his guests for their leadership but kept his remarks brief, telling them tonight was about having some fun.
“I’ve always said that governors have one of the best but also one of the toughest jobs around,” the president joked, “On the one hand you guys are in charge, which means that folks know where you live and they know how to find you if something doesn’t work.”
Obama told the leaders that they were in a unique position, being able to see lasting change in their states every day.
“Every time I get a sense of what is happening in your states I am reminded that progress is possible,” he said.
The politicians are coming off three days of panel discussions and meetings. Topics covered are largely broad-based, regional, and focused on cooperative dialogue. This year’s conference has a special emphasis on job creation. President Obama lauded the progress made on the economy and clean energy, and while they wouldn’t agree on every issue, he said he looked forward to more collaboration going forward.
“By virtue of the position, you end up having to be pragmatic, because you need to find out what works,” he said.
Obama wrapped up by toasting his guests, “but especially all the spouses who put up with us.”
He was followed by the chairman of the NGA, Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, who told the crowd as a young man he could never have dreamed he would be standing there one day. The two-term Republican thanked the president and first lady for their service.
“For you, and for us, it is an honor and a privilege to serve the citizens of this great country.”
Although the NGA conference and dinner was held in a spirit of bipartisanship, as with any large gathering of politicians there is always some posturing. Members of the Democratic delegation met privately with Obama Friday and their Republican counterparts have had their own closed meetings.
Eight governors hit the television networks this morning for political talk show appearances. And tomorrow Heineman is expected to ask the president to reconsider his stance on the Keystone XL pipeline during a scheduled meeting at the White House, although it’s highly unlikely Obama will budge.
But for tonight, the state leaders have their meal and a performance from jazz singer Dianne Reeves.
At least one gubernatorial leader was not in attendance: Gov. Jan Brewer. The Huffington Post reported Saturday the Arizona Republican was overheard telling her staff she declined the invitation because did not want to participate in a “social” event.
Despite Brewer’s prickly history with Obama, she insists her absence tonight was not a matter of disrespect. On NBC’s “Meet the Press” this morning, the governor said she had other commitments and confirmed she would be present for the formal policy meeting at the White House Monday.