The White House announced in August that the Trumps would not be attending the annual gala after several honorees said they would boycott a Trump-hosted reception at the White House. Trump responded by bowing out, saying through a spokesman that he and the first lady would not attend “to allow the honorees to celebrate without any political distraction.”
Trump’s absence is notable for several reasons. The gala is a fundraising event for the national arts center, and having a sitting president in attendance is a significant draw. In addition, the lasting image of the annually televised event features the first couple seated alongside the smiling honorees. This year’s celebration of the performing arts will air at 9 p.m on Dec. 26 on CBS.
Previous presidents have skipped the event for scheduling, but not political, reasons. President Jimmy Carter did not attend in 1979 because of the Iran hostage crisis, and presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton were absent in 1989 and 1994, respectively, because they were traveling in Europe. President Barack Obama arrived late in 2015 after giving a nationally televised address. In each of those cases, the first lady served as the president’s surrogate.
At Sunday’s gala, there was no host onstage, either, as Stephen Colbert did not return for a fourth year.