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President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania hosted their first state visit by welcoming President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte to the White House.

The Macrons arrived on Monday, April 23 and left on Wednesday, April 25.

Emmanuel Macron is the Western leader who likes President Trump the most. The US president also wanted to reciprocate the warm welcome and Bastille Day visit in July 2017 (here and here).

Oh, the irony. Macron was Obama’s pet in 2017 during the French presidential campaign. They were on the phone to each other at least once:

State visits

In 1997, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty posted an article on the various types of visits made to the White House by heads of state. It is well worth reading. An excerpt follows about the state visit, the most important one (emphases mine):

According to official State Department guidelines, there are five types of visits to be accorded to a ranking member of a foreign government. They are: a “state visit,” an “official visit,” an “official working visit,” a “working visit,” and a “private visit.”

The guidelines say that the “state visit” is the highest ranking visit and can only be offered to a chief of state — such as the president of a country or a reigning monarch like Britain’s Queen Elizabeth — and must be at the invitation of the U.S. president.

During a state visit, the guest is offered a room for four days and three nights at Blair House, the President’s official guest house, located within walking distance of the White House.

A state visit ensures a meeting with the U.S. president, a state dinner at the White House, a full honors arrival and departure ceremony on the south grounds of the White House, and a 21 gun salute. Gifts may be exchanged and spouses can attend the ceremonies and dinners. Press availability and photo opportunities are plentiful

Mel French, the Director of Protocol at the U.S. State Department, says there is a practical reason why the White House ranks the visits of foreign guests.

“Ranking the visits gives a level to what the [U.S.] president wants to do when he invites someone to this country,” she says. “Often they really need an official working visit where they can sit down and work through problems or things that they need to talk about. An official working visit is really a visit of substance and policy. A state visit and an official visit are more of a ceremonial type thing where we are honoring a country.”

French adds that there are limits on state visits.

A country can only have one state visit during a [U.S.] president’s four-year term,” she says.

French says that the decision of what kind of rank to accord each visitor is made jointly by the National Security Council and the State Department.

When asked if foreign heads of state are ever invited to stay at the White House instead of Blair House, French says that can happen occasionally, but only under unusual or important circumstances.

State dinners

On April 18, Jennifer Boswell Pickens, White House East Wing historian, wrote an excellent article for The Daily Caller about previous presidents’ state dinners and her anticipation of this one:

I predict the Trumps’ first State Arrival Ceremony and State Dinner will truly be a meaningful event for the Macrons, as even the smallest details are coming from Mrs. Trump’s appreciation for American History and respect for her French guests … Not since Jackie Kennedy will we have a First Lady able to speak fluently to her guests creating that timeless “Melania Trump je ne sais quoi” that will help the president create deeper bonds, and closer diplomatic ties with our French neighbors.

The White House also issued an interesting history of state visits. The first one was held in 1874, when President Ulysses S Grant welcomed King David Kalakaua of Hawaii:

The White House had never hosted a foreign head of state—Hawaii would not be annexed by the United States until 1898—largely because travel overseas during the 18th and 19th centuries was long and hazardous.

No matter how the visit went, King Kalakaua’s trip would set a precedent.

The result was America’s first State Dinner with a foreign head of state, an intimate but elaborate meal consisting of more than 20 courses and 36 guests. The President, Vice President, and a host of other U.S. dignitaries were in attendance.

The reason for King Kalakaua’s visit and the primary topic of discussion? A trade deal.

Preparations

Everything was planned well in advance, from the security and the dinner to Macron’s speaking engagements.

Meanwhile, Macron gave interviews on both sides of the Atlantic prior to his visit. Chris Wallace travelled to Paris to interview him for Fox News:

The 40-year-old Macron said Sunday that he has a “very special relationship” with Trump, suggesting they’re political “mavericks” mutually committed to fighting terrorism and reducing the influence of rogue nations and dictators …

He said he and Trump “have a very special relationship because both of us are probably the maverick of the systems on both sides. I think President Trump’s election was unexpected in your country, and probably my election was unexpected in my country. And we are not part of the classical political system. … We are very much attached to the same values …. especially liberty and peace,” he said. “And I think the U.S. today has a very strong role to play for peace in different regions of the world and especially the Middle East.”

No doubt Macron was looking forward to getting away from the fray for a few days. He has been facing active opposition in France for some time. The Express had more on the Chris Wallace interview:

Furious protests are regularly held against French Government’s reforms, with up to 200,000 people attending some marches. 

These protests have often spilled over into violence and riots, including tense clashes with police.

On this, Mr Macron said: “If I stop here, because of some protests, they are legitimate but in a minority, then I will never be able to reform again.”

Wallace followed this up: “Your popularity is falling. You were elected with 66 percent of the vote.

“The latest polls show that 58 percent of French people disapprove of your presidency, with only 40 percent approval rates.”

The French president responded: “If you follow the polls, you never reform, you never fix the situation, you never transform.

“You are always obsessed with following where you want to go. I will look at the polls in due time, not now.”

There was also the matter of an immigration bill which caused rifts in the French parliament.

On Sunday, the First Lady was putting the finishing touches on Tuesday’s state dinner:

She tweeted:

After months of preparations, and I are looking forward to hosting our first State Dinner with France! Thank you to everyone who has worked so hard to make this visit a success. 🇺🇸 🇫🇷

ZeroHedge gave us an insight into the planning (bold emphases in the original, those in purple mine):

To prepare for Tuesday night’s State Dinner – the Trump administration’s first – Melania went all out, curiously doing so without the help of an event planner as previous first ladies have used

Preparation began seven months ago, when Melania began cooking up gift ideas – such as a framed section of upholstery from one of the chairs in the White House Blue Room, created by French designer Pierre-Antoine Bellangé as one of 53 pieces commissioned for the room by President James Monroe. 

The Macrons will also receive a photo album upon their departure, full of pictures of their visit – along with an engraved Tiffany & Co. silver bowl which bears the presidential seal and the signatures of both Trumps …

To pull off the event, Melania has assembled a “close-knit” team of 10 people in the East Wing. “The team is small, but mighty” says the first lady’s communications director, Stephanie Grisham.

The Trumps are opting for a slimmed-down dinner of around 150 people – with no invites going to Congressional Democrats or members of the press

In fact, there was one Democrat who attended: the governor of Louisiana. It is customary for Louisiana’s governor to be invited to state events honouring the French head of state.

Monday’s schedule

This was the White House schedule for Monday, April 23:

The US military and various dignitaries welcomed the Macrons upon their arrival at Joint Base Andrews. Macron made a brief statement of thanks to Trump and said the two of them would discuss various bilateral issues, including trade and security (around 7:00):

Macron mentioned the mutual responsibility both countries have in the face of mounting international challenges. As a political commentator pointed out on France’s RMC talk radio, France is the EU nation the US will look to for military presence when needed once the UK completes Brexit:

A motorcade then took the couple to Blair House, where visiting heads of state reside during their visits. There, they were able to rest and prepare for the afternoon’s tree planting and dinner at Mount Vernon. Transport to and from George Washington’s homestead was via Marine One.

That afternoon, the president and first lady officially greeted the Macrons at the White House (longer version here):

They got a tour of the White House. Here they are in the Oval Office. Brigitte Macron admired the Resolute desk:

The Macrons gave the United States an oak tree sapling as a gift. The Conservative Treehouse explains that the sapling is an important one. It was (emphases mine):

taken from Bellau Wood, about 60 miles northeast of Paris in the Champagne region. The site is where a famous World War One battle took place, where the U.S. Marine Corps repelled a German offensive in the final year of the conflict almost exactly a century ago.

The sapling grew close to the so-called “Devil Dog” fountain, a spot that has become legendary within Marines ranks. It is where U.S. soldiers are said to have gathered after the battle. The “dog” in the fountain’s name refers to its spout, which resembles the head of a bull mastiff. But the nickname also stems from the German moniker “Teufelhunde”, or “devil dogs”. That term is said to have been used by the Germans to describe the U.S. Marines due to the ferocity with which the Americans fought.

As a consequence, “Devil Dog” soon became a common nickname for U.S. Marines.

The tree was already planted on the White House lawn, so the two presidents conducted a ceremonial ‘planting’ on the South Lawn:

I rather enjoyed this photo of the wives:

Then it was time to board Marine One:

This was the view:

They arrived a short while later. Macron cannot keep his hands off Trump, whom he sees as a father figure (see 3:10). You can see the exterior of the Mount Vernon mansion at 4:47:

This clip gives a closer view. The outer doors are particularly intriguing (3:00):

After dinner:

Before leaving:

The choice of the venue has historic significance for the two countries. George Washington had a close friendship with General Lafayette, who helped the colonies greatly in the Revolutionary War:

The media stated a more pedestrian reason for the choice of Mount Vernon:

In a statement issued that day, President Trump made it abundantly clear that the historical bonds between the United States and France are significant. An excerpt follows (emphasis in the original):

A LONG AND ENDURING FRIENDSHIP: President Trump is continuing the legacy of French-American cooperation that stretches back to America’s independence and working with President Macron to build the already strong ties between the United States and France.

  • President Trump has made clear that the bond between the United States and France is unbreakable.
    • The relationship between the two countries dates back to the days of the American Revolution, when thousands of French soldiers fought alongside American troops and provided crucial support in our fight for freedom and liberty.
  • Presidents Trump and Macron have reaffirmed and strengthened the U.S.-France relationship. They have met in person and spoken on the phone numerous times.

As dusk fell, the couples boarded Marine One for the White House.

Upon arrival, conversation was lively, as if between friends:

The top left photo shows Macron holding Papa Trump’s left arm (click to enlarge):

The Macrons left for Blair House:

Trump managed to secure an increase in France’s NATO contribution that day. Early that evening, The Daily Caller reported:

President Donald Trump secured a commitment from French President Emmanuel Macron Monday to increase the country’s NATO defense spending by more than a third.

Trump hosted Macron in Washington, DC Monday, after which the White House announced France’s commitment to meet NATO’s two percent GDP defense spending minimum, an increase of 35 percent.

Ah. The Art of the Deal.

Promises made, promises kept.

Tomorrow: The Trumps’ first state dinner

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