First lady Melania Trump listens to a toast by her husband US President Donald J. Trump (not pictured) during the annual Governors Dinner in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, USA, 26 February 2017. Part of the National Governors Association’s annual meeting in the nation’s capital, the black tie dinner and ball is the first formal event the Trumps will host at the White House since moving in last month. EPA/CHIP SOMODEVILLA / POOL (AFP OUT)

Even before guests began arriving for the first black-tie event of the Trump administration, the annual dinner at the White House for the nation’s governors and their spouses, there was already a bit of discrepancy about what was actually on the menu.

First lady Melania Trump indicated that the evening was meant to be a purely social affair — no working allowed. “I am proud to invite all the governors to the White House for this important annual event,” she said in a statement on Sunday afternoon. “Tonight, we come together as one Nation, leaving political labels and partisan interests behind.”

So lots of talk about the weather, then?

Then a few hours later, her husband seemed to have a very different idea of the agenda. “Much to be discussed, including healthcare,” the president tweeted.

Kind of hard to chitchat about high-risk pools and premium increases without things getting just a touch political, hey, Mr. President?

Whether shoptalk was welcome or not, the guests had other sensory stimulation for distraction: In her statement, Melania Trump said that the event’s theme was “Spring’s Renewal” and that “the scents of jasmine and roses fill the air as we give thanks for this great Nation and the glory of renewal.”

What wasn’t new, as the dinner got underway, was the host’s obsession with the size of… his audience. Trump toasted the governors, per a video feed, and boasted that 46 of the nation’s governors were in attendance, saying that was a record (no fact-check was immediately available).

“What easy jobs you have,” Trump sorta-joked to the room, as the teetotaler-in-chief lifted a glass of what looked like water in place of the usual bubbly or vino. And it wasn’t clear how it went over in the room, but Trump was instantly dragged on Twitter for welcoming the governors “and their wives and daughters” to the White House, forgetting that there are also women who hold the title.

Earlier in the week, White House spokesman Sean Spicer underscored the importance of the event, which marks the debut of Melania Trump in the traditional role of entertainer in chief. The first lady, who lives in Manhattan as her son finishes school, has scarcely spent time in Washington and has shown little interest in many of the typical duties of a first lady.

“The first lady has put a lot of time into this event, welcoming our nation’s governors to the capital,” Spicer told reporters, when asked whether the president planned to monitor the Oscars for the expected anti-Trump speeches. “I have a feeling that’s where the president and first lady are going to be focused on Sunday night.”

The attention looked like it had paid off, though the decor appeared to be simpler than one might expect for a couple accustomed to entertaining in a replica of Versailles (that’s the ballroom at Mar-a-lago). Guests sat at tables covered in spring green damask and topped with centerpieces of grapes and tall, slender taper candles. And the mantle behind the dais was bare, unlike in previous years, when it has been festooned with florals.

Trump’s first month in office has been full of surprises, and perhaps this was another — from a couple whose Manhattan penthouse is a riot of gilding, we get…understatement?


Texas Governor Greg Abbott (C, front) attends the annual Governors Dinner in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, USA, 26 February 2017. Part of the National Governors Association’s annual meeting in the nation’s capital, the black tie dinner and ball is the first formal event the Trumps will host at the White House since moving in last month. EPA/CHIP SOMODEVILLA / POOL (AFP OUT)