Obama, Hollande toast to 'historic state visit'

President Obama hosted French President Francois Hollande for the first state dinner of his second term Tuesday night, a lavish and highly orchestrated meal gathering the stars of Washington and Hollywood.

In a toast to open the dinner, Obama said he and first lady Michelle Obama were honored to host the “historic state visit," the “first in nearly 20 years.”

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He said Americans have grown to love “all things French – the films, the food, the wine – especially the wine.”

“Most of all we love our French friends because we've stood together for freedom for more than 200 years. Tonight I again want pay tribute to President Hollande for the principled leadership, the personal friendship and the courage he has shown on the world stage.”

Hollande, for his part, thanked the president and listed areas where the two countries are working together, notably nuclear talks with Iran and global climate change.

"We love the United States and you love the French," Hollande said, "although you're sometimes too shy to say so."

High-profile guests at the event included comedian Stephen Colbert, who was seated next to Michelle Obama, and “Veep” star Julia Louis Dreyfus, who was seated by the real-life vice president, Joe Biden.

Academy Award nominees Bradley Cooper and Cicely Tyson also made the cut for the exclusive gala, as did director J.J. Abrams, former NBA commissioner David Stern and comedian Mindy Kaling.

The party also featured a bipartisan group of top lawmakers, including Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.).

Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), fresh off a vote against a clean debt-ceiling increase that had broken with GOP leadership, was also in attendance, as were Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, Democratic Senate campaign chief Michael Bennet (Colo.) and Kentucky Gov. Steven Beshear (D).

Schumer joked to reporters that he liked French food — and specifically “the rolls” and the steak frites. Pelosi, for her part, responded to a question about whether the U.S. or France produced better chocolate by flatly declaring: “San Francisco.”

The first lady’s dress — always the source of much attention at a state dinner — was a sleeved blue and black Carolina Herrera ball gown. 

Guests were serenaded by singer-songerwriter Mary J. Blige, and enjoyed a feast featuring food from all over America. The first course of caviar, fingerling potatoes, and quail eggs was followed by a winter garden salad culled from the White House garden. Guests enjoyed a dry-aged rib eye steak for the main course, and a Hawaiian chocolate malted ganache served a la mode with vanilla ice cream and tangerines for dessert. The wine selection included vintages from California, Washington State, and Monticello, the Virginia estate of Thomas Jefferson that Obama and Hollande visited on Monday.

In addition to top Washington officials and celebrities, the guest list included major donors‚ including Mark Gallogly, Joan and Irwin Jacobs and Cappy McGarr — from the president’s reelection campaign. Top journalists, including New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson, CNN head Jeff Zucker, and Associated Press White House correspondent Julie Pace were also in attendance.

But perhaps the most attention was focused on the person who was not in attendance: former French first lady Valérie Trierweiler.

Hollande and Trierweiler split last month amid tabloid reports that Hollande was having an affair with actress Julie Gayet. The Telegraph reported over the weekend that the White House was forced to secretly destroy hundreds of embossed invitations referencing Trierweiler ahead of Tuesday’s dinner.

While the dinner was mostly a lighthearted affair, a few moments of politics snuck in. Eliseo Medina, an activist who fasted for 22 days in support of immigration reform, was seated at the head table with the presidents and first lady.

Obama also made a passing comment about his recent struggles to move legislation through Congress while heralding the French political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville — who famously surveyed the United States in its infancy — in his toast.

“He wrote – and I very much can relate to this – ‘The power of the king of France would be nil if it were modeled after the power of the president,’ ” Obama said. “And the king did not have to deal with the filibuster.”

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