Trump, first lady to skip Kennedy Center Honors awards program

In this July 7, 2017, photo, President Donald Trump, left, and first lady Melania Trump smile prior to a concert on the first day of the G-20 summit in Hamburg, northern Germany. The White House has announced that President Trump and the first lady have decided not to participate in events honoring recipients of this year's Kennedy Center arts awards. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
In this July 7, 2017, photo, President Donald Trump, left, and first lady Melania Trump smile prior to a concert on the first day of the G-20 summit in Hamburg, northern Germany. The White House has announced that President Trump and the first lady have decided not to participate in events honoring recipients of this year's Kennedy Center arts awards. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

BRIDGEWATER, N.J. (AP) — Acknowledging that he has become a "political distraction," President Donald Trump has decided to skip the festivities surrounding the annual Kennedy Center Honors arts awards later this year, the White House announced Saturday amid the continuing fallout over Trump's stance on last weekend's white supremacist demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The Kennedy Center said it respected Trump's decision and the show will go on.

Trump and first lady Melania Trump reached their decision Friday, a White House official said, the same day that the entire membership of the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities resigned in protest over Trump's remarks about Charlottesville. The official was not authorized to publicly discuss internal deliberations and insisted on anonymity to comment.

Trump has blamed "both sides" for the Aug. 12 violence that left an anti-racism activist dead.

Presidents traditionally host a light-hearted and oftentimes humorous gathering for the honorees at the White House before the awards ceremony at the performing arts center. Trump will not hold that reception this year, and he and the first lady will not attend the gala.

It will be the fourth time in the awards' 40-year history that a president will miss out on the ceremony.

Trump long has had a contentious relationship with the arts world and some of those being recognized for lifetime achievement in their fields had already made clear they would boycott a White House reception presided over by Trump.

His decision capped a week in which he was put on the defensive over his Charlottesville remarks.

Elected and former elected officials in both parties urged Trump to more forcefully denounce the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who marched through Charlottesville, while others openly questioned his competence and moral leadership.

Corporate titans whom Trump enjoyed schmoozing with at the White House fled advisory boards they had agreed to serve on, while uniformed leaders of the armed services denounced racism and hatred without naming their commander in chief.

One of Trump's evangelical advisers also stepped down, and the number of major charities that are canceling fundraisers planned for Trump's property in Palm Beach, Fla., has been rising.

"The president and first lady have decided not to participate in this year's activities to allow the honorees to celebrate without any political distraction," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. Sanders said the Trumps offer their "sincerest congratulations and well wishes to all of this year's award recipients for their many accomplishments."

Television writer and producer Norman Lear, among the five honorees announced earlier this month, had questioned whether Trump would want to attend the gala "given his indifference or worse regarding the arts and humanities." Trump has recommended eliminating funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Dancer Carmen de Lavallade said on her website Thursday that she was honored to be recognized, but would not go to the White House.

"In light of the socially divisive and morally caustic narrative that our existing leadership is choosing to engage in, and in keeping with the principles that I and so many others have fought for, I will be declining the invitation to attend the reception at the White House," she said.

Singer Gloria Estefan had said she would set her personal politics aside to accept the honor, now in its 40th year. She said the image of a Cuban immigrant like herself being honored is important when Latino immigrants in particular have "taken a beating in the recent past." Estefan once hosted a Democratic fundraiser attended by President Barack Obama. She said she and her husband, Emilio, are not affiliated with a political party.

Representatives for the remaining honorees — hip-hop artist LL Cool J, who had not yet said whether he would show up at the White House, and singer Lionel Richie, who described himself as a maybe — did not respond to requests for comment.

In this May 6, 2008, file photo, producer Norman Lear is seen in Beverly Hills, Calif. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts announced the recipients of the 2017 Kennedy Center Honors. They are: hip-hop artist LL Cool J, singers Gloria Estefan and Lionel Richie, television writer and producer Lear and dancer Carmen de Lavallade. It’s the 40th year of the awards, which honor people who have influenced American culture through the arts.  (AP Photo/Matt Sayles, File)
In this May 6, 2008, file photo, producer Norman Lear is seen in Beverly Hills, Calif. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts announced the recipients of the 2017 Kennedy Center Honors. They are: hip-hop artist LL Cool J, singers Gloria Estefan and Lionel Richie, television writer and producer Lear and dancer Carmen de Lavallade. It’s the 40th year of the awards, which honor people who have influenced American culture through the arts. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles, File)
In this photo taken April 1, 2012, Lionel Richie arrives at the 47th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts announced the recipients of the 2017 Kennedy Center Honors. They are: hip-hop artist LL Cool J, singers Gloria Estefan and Lionel Richie, television writer and producer Norman Lear and dancer Carmen de Lavallade. It’s the 40th year of the awards, which honor people who have influenced American culture through the arts.  (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken, File)
In this photo taken April 1, 2012, Lionel Richie arrives at the 47th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts announced the recipients of the 2017 Kennedy Center Honors. They are: hip-hop artist LL Cool J, singers Gloria Estefan and Lionel Richie, television writer and producer Norman Lear and dancer Carmen de Lavallade. It’s the 40th year of the awards, which honor people who have influenced American culture through the arts. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken, File)
In this Nov. 3, 2014, file photo, rapper/actor LL Cool J watches the Los Angeles Clippers play the Utah Jazz during the first half of an NBA basketball game, in Los Angeles. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts announced the recipients of the 2017 Kennedy Center Honors. They are: hip-hop artist LL Cool J, singers Gloria Estefan and Lionel Richie, television writer and producer Norman Lear and dancer Carmen de Lavallade. It’s the 40th year of the awards, which honor people who have influenced American culture through the arts.  (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)
In this Nov. 3, 2014, file photo, rapper/actor LL Cool J watches the Los Angeles Clippers play the Utah Jazz during the first half of an NBA basketball game, in Los Angeles. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts announced the recipients of the 2017 Kennedy Center Honors. They are: hip-hop artist LL Cool J, singers Gloria Estefan and Lionel Richie, television writer and producer Norman Lear and dancer Carmen de Lavallade. It’s the 40th year of the awards, which honor people who have influenced American culture through the arts. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)
In this Sept. 13, 2011, file photo, singer Gloria Estefan is interviewed in New York. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts announced the recipients of the 2017 Kennedy Center Honors. They are: hip-hop artist LL Cool J, singers Estefan and Lionel Richie, television writer and producer Norman Lear and dancer Carmen de Lavallade. It’s the 40th year of the awards, which honor people who have influenced American culture through the arts.  (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)
In this Sept. 13, 2011, file photo, singer Gloria Estefan is interviewed in New York. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts announced the recipients of the 2017 Kennedy Center Honors. They are: hip-hop artist LL Cool J, singers Estefan and Lionel Richie, television writer and producer Norman Lear and dancer Carmen de Lavallade. It’s the 40th year of the awards, which honor people who have influenced American culture through the arts. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

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