Lawmakers, high-profile figures mingle at Modi state dinner, shying away from politics

Lawmakers, high-profile figures mingle at Modi state dinner, shying away from politics

Lawmakers including House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) mixed and mingled with high-profile figures — including tennis champion Billie Jean King and director M. Night Shyamalan — but largely shied away from talking politics at the state dinner for India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the White House.

President Biden welcomed Modi to the White House on Thursday for the third state dinner of his administration.

Ralph Lauren, sporting a tuxedo with a pair of gray New Balance sneakers, confirmed to reporters that he designed Jill Biden’s glittery green gown for the black-tie affair. Asked if he wanted to give a preview of the dress before the public had gotten a glimpse of it, the 83-year-old fashion designer quipped with a smile, “No.”

Grammy Award-winning violinist Joshua Bell said he had a few nerves ahead of his performance at the state dinner, saying the event was “just not my usual thing.”

Bell said he’d have to slip out of the dinner in order to prep for his performance since it was taking place after the vegetarian meal was to be served.

“I wish I could play first and then drink a little wine,” he said with a chuckle.

When asked what he thought of Modi, Bell responded, “So I try to stay away from politics, but I love Indian music.”

The state dinner and visit has not evaded controversy, with some lawmakers and human rights groups criticizing the glitzy affair for Modi.

McCarthy dodged a question about Attorney General Merrick Garland and Hunter Biden, the president’s son who reached a plea deal with the Department of Justice earlier this week. Biden pleaded guilty to misdemeanors for failing to pay income taxes in 2017 and 2018 and reached a diversion agreement related to unlawful possession of a weapon. 

House Republicans have been investigating the Biden family’s business dealings. 

“I look forward to taking my daughter-in-law for the very first time to the White House,” McCarthy replied to the query about Hunter Biden and Garland.

The House Speaker noted that he got a memento from Modi following the prime minister’s speech to a joint session of Congress earlier in the day.

“I did get an autograph, too!” he exclaimed.

Scalise ducked a similar question about the notable fellow guests, Garland and Biden.

“It should be an interesting dinner,” Scalise said, before talking about the importance of forging “strong bonds” between India and the United States.

Schumer said the U.S. and India share a “great relationship.”

“It’s going to be one of the most important relationships in the next century. And India, and the West, if we come together it’s a great bulwark against some of the things the Chinese are doing,” he told reporters.

Other guests eyed making their way to the dinner at the White House: Huma Abedin, James Murdoch, Apple CEO Tim Cook — who was flashing peace signs as he strolled by — Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.), Martin Luther King III, Naomi and Ashley Biden, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.). 

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