Lawmakers, Hollywood collide at White House state dinner for Kenyan President William Ruto

Different worlds collided at the White House, as everyone from former President Clinton and Hillary Clinton to actor Sean Penn, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and “Leading Rainbow” LeVar Burton attended the state dinner in Kenya.

The Clintons were all smiles and held hands as they posed for photographs at a black-tie evening on Thursday, the Biden administration’s sixth official dinner, held in memory of Kenyan President William Ruto.

When asked what the best part of being back in the White House was, the 42nd president grinned and exclaimed to ITK, “I love the girl behind you!” The former commander in chief pointed to a 2003 portrait of his wife that hangs in the White House Bookseller’s Room. He expressed a similar sentiment when he caught a glimpse of the former Secretary of State’s portrait at a state dinner in Japan last month.

Brad Paisley, one of the evening’s entertainers along with the Howard Gospel Choir, said he would begin his performance with his 2009 hit “American Saturday Night.”

“But then it all falls apart,” he joked, standing with his wife, Kimberly Williams-Paisley. “We’ll see what happens.”

Brad and Kimberly Williams-Paisley arrive in the Booksellers area of ​​the White House in Washington to attend a state dinner hosted by President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden for Kenyan President William Ruto and First Lady Rachel Ruto, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Jacqueline Martin)

ITK asked Burton, who hosted the classic children’s show “Reading Rainbow” from 1983 to 2006, what word of the day would describe the current political climate?

“Just one? Can I swear to you?” Burton, 67, joked.

When told it was a free country, he replied, “Yeah, but I’m a ‘Leading Rainbow’ guy.”

“It’s full of possibilities,” he said, adding, “Those are three words.”

LeVar Burton and Stephanie Cozart-Burton arrive in the Booksellers area of ​​the White House to attend a state dinner hosted by President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden for Kenyan President William Ruto and first lady Rachel Ruto, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacqueline Martin)

Other celebrities were less vocal. Goodell didn’t answer any questions, including his reaction to Kansas City Chiefs player Harrison Butker’s controversial commencement speech. Academy Award winners Penn, Vice President Harris and actor Wilmer Valderrama also posed for photos without answering questions from reporters.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) brought his mother to the glitzy event, calling her “the most amazing woman in the world.” The New Jersey Democrat also gave his mother a quick lesson in posing for photographers in front of a step-and-repeat, joking, “This is where we show how sexy we are.”

President Joe Biden offers a toast during a state dinner with Kenyan President William Ruto at the White House in Washington, Thursday, May 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The event, which marked the first state dinner at the White House for an African country since 2008, featured guests including Huma Abedin, Naomi Biden, Peter Neal, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, “American Pie” singer Don McLean, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Chasten Buttigieg, Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Chris Coons (D-Delaware), Raphael Warnock (D-Georgia), Melinda French Gates and Deb Harlan. Among those in attendance were Secretary of the Interior Donald, “NBC Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, Reps. Michael McCaul (R-TX), Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Richard Neal (D-MA), Joe Negus (D-CO), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Barbara Lee (D-CA) and John Garamendi (D-CA), Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, Sheryl Sandberg, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and Al Sharpton.

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