In a statement released Saturday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the first family made the decision to skip the awards “to allow the honorees to celebrate without any political distraction.”
She went on to say that the Trumps “extend their sincerest congratulations and well wishes to all of this year’s award recipients for their many accomplishments.”
The announcement comes on the heels of news that television producer Norman Lear, one of the evening’s honorees, would be boycotting the ceremony — which pays tribute to the lifetime achievements of artists who have helped shape cultural life in the United States.
Choreographer and dancer Carmen de Lavallade, who is also being honored, said Thursday she would be skipping the White House reception but would attend the awards ceremony.
“In light of the socially divisive and morally caustic narrative that our current 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,” de Lavallade wrote on Twitter.
The five honorees chosen for the 40th annual Honors also include Cuban American singer/songwriter Gloria Estefan, hip-hop pioneer LL Cool J, and musician Lionel Richie — all who have been outspoken critics of the president and his anti-immigration/anti-arts agendas.
“I’m going to just play it by ear,” Richie told TODAY on Tuesday when asked if he would be attending. “I must tell you, I’m not really happy as to what’s going on right now with the controversies. They’re weekly, daily, hourly. But I think I’m just gonna wait it out for a minute, see where it’s going to be by that time.”
Since taking office in January, President Trump has skipped a number of annual events regularly attended by past presidents — including the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. (Trump’s refusal to attend the annual “nerd prom” earlier this year marked the second time a president had missed the event as President Ronald Reagan bowed out in 1981 as he was recovering from an assassination attempt.)
However, Trump isn’t the only sitting president who has missed the Kennedy Center Honors — President Jimmy Carter missed the event in 1979, President George H. W. Bush skipped it in 1989, and President Bill Clinton did likewise in 1994.
The 71-year-old former Celebrity Apprentice host found himself in hot water this week after his handling of Aug. 12’s white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left one dead.
Trump condemned the hate groups on Monday but backtracked later in a news conference saying that “bigotry and hatred” was coming from “many sides” and that “both sides” were to blame — including the counter-protesters.
“Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments,” Trump wrote. “You can’t change history, but you can learn from it. Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson – who’s next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish!”
“Also the beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced!” the president continued.
The 40th Annual Kennedy Center Honors tapes on Dec. 3 and will air Dec. 26 on CBS.