President Donald Trump will not attend the Kennedy Center Honors celebrations in December, marking the fourth time in 40 years that the event has not had a sitting president present.
"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 announced in a statement, according to The New York Times. "First Lady Melania Trump, along with her husband President Donald J. Trump, extend their sincerest congratulations and well wishes to all of this year's award recipients for their many accomplishments."
Deborah F. Rutter, the Kennedy Center president, said on Aug. 19 that the center and the folks at the White House spoke at length about whether or not he should attend, although they never asked the president not to show up.
"It's new territory for everybody in America," said Rutter. "This is a new world that we're all in."
The Kennedy Center said in a statement that it is expecting all recipients to attend.
"In choosing not to participate in this year’s Honors activities, the administration has graciously signaled its respect for the Kennedy Center and ensures the Honors gala remains a deservingly special moment for the honorees," wrote Rutter and David M. Rubenstein, the Kennedy Center heads.
Rutter said that the center had been "balancing very carefully" and noted that the Trump administration saw "what's going on in the media and conversations," especially since some of those receiving awards for lifetime achievements in art, music, dance, film, television and culture have committed to not attending any reception events at the White House due to political objections to the Trump administration.
"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," 86-year-old dancer, choreographer and Kennedy honoree Carmen de Lavallade said in a statement.
In addition to Lavallade, the center will honor singer and songwriter Gloria Estefan, rapper and entertainer LL COOL J, musician and record producer Lionel Richie and film and TV writer and producer Norman Lear.
"We'll have to see," Lear told Deadline when asked in early August if he would attend. "If it were held today, I wouldn't go. I'm not sure I want to visit a White House that has given such a cold shoulder to culture and the arts."
Trump will join three other presidents who skipped out on the festivities: President Bill Clinton in 1994, who was traveling to Budapest for a summit; President George Bush in 1989, who was meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev in Malta; and President Jimmy Carter in 1979, who was in the midst of the Iran hostage crisis, notes The Times.