Trump-free Kennedy Center Honors avoids politics
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Buzz about President Trump’s absence dominated headlines leading up to the Kennedy Center Honors, but the annual event itself remained virtually politics-free, as Washington feted some of Hollywood’s most recognizable names.

“I am very appreciative that the president chose not to come because what happens is a beautiful night for all of us gets mired in politics, and controversy, and then it becomes about something else,” Gloria Estefan told reporters on the red carpet ahead of Sunday’s ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington.

The “Get On Your Feet” singer was one of five entertainers — including legendary producer Norman Lear, singer Lionel Richie, dancer Carmen de Lavallade, and rapper LL Cool J — to receive the honor as part of the Kennedy Center’s 40th annual gala.

Bucking the tradition of a sitting president or first lady attending the prestigious awards ceremony, Trump opted to skip the festivities after several of the honorees, including Lear and Richie, suggested they might boycott a related reception at the White House typically hosted by the commander in chief.

The White House said in August that Trump and the first lady wouldn’t participate in the Honors to “allow the honorees to celebrate without any political distraction.”

“I believe in this country. I respect the office of the presidency very much. But I particularly would’ve wanted [Trump] to see an example of what an immigrant offers this country,” Estefan, who was born in Cuba, said.

“And it’s funny because he’s an immigrant,” the Grammy winner added of Trump. “Unless you’re Native American, you came from somewhere else. I think a lot of it is rhetoric and I ignore rhetoric.”

“I want to make sure that tonight, it’s about the arts,” LL Cool J, the first hip hop artist to receive the award, said when asked whether he’d engage in a conversation with Trump. “I don’t want to feed into any distractions and go left.”

But the “Mama Said Knock You Out” rapper and actor did weigh in on the current political climate, telling ITK, “I think that the overwhelming majority of this country is solid. I think that sometimes the fringes can be a little louder, and when the fringes are really loud — especially in an era of the internet and social media — the volume can seem a little more dialed up than it really is.”

Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels, of rap group Run D.M.C. fame, wore his message on his sleeve, sporting a shirt on the red carpet that read: “ Censorship is Un-American.”

“It’s about freedom of speech. Saying what is supposed to be said that is the truth. And a lot of times, in this day and age, when you speak the truth, people say you’re a hater. But I’m not being a hater,” McDaniels said.

As a handler for Lionel Richie attempted to pull him away from journalists on the red carpet, the “All Night Long” singer quipped, “But I’m gonna announce I’m running for president!”

When ITK inquired whether he’d be making a 2020 White House bid, he exclaimed with a smile, “Never!”

“Artists really are political animals,” Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter told ITK when asked about all the political chatter surrounding this year’s ceremony. “They hold the mirror up to us,” Rutter continued, “and they reflect back to us who we are and what’s going on in society.”

The show itself, which is poised to be broadcast Dec. 26 on CBS, was almost entirely devoid of any political talk. “Desperate Housewives” alum Eva Longoria, singers Chaka Khan, Becky G. and Jon Secada, and Estefan’s daughter, Emily, helped perform a tribute to the Cuban-American performer.

Director J.J. Abrams kicked off a celebration of 95-year-old Lear’s life, saying the “All in the Family” creator and People for the American Way founder is “brilliant, but more important, he’s honorable.”

George Clooney narrated a video about Lear, and the United States Air Force Band performed “America, the Beautiful” as Lear’s original copy of the Declaration of Independence, which he and a partner purchased in 2000, was wheeled onto the stage.

“God bless the great land, where everything is for sale, including our founding document,” comedian Dave Chappelle cracked as he lauded Lear. Director Rob Reiner, actress Rita Moreno, and “Blackish” actor Anthony Anderson were also among those who helped honor Lear.

Queen Latifah, and an array of hip hop stars and musicians — including Busta Rhymes, Questlove, and MC Lyte— sang the praises of LL Cool J, while Meryl Streep and several dancers, such as ballet star Misty Copeland, led a salute to de Lavallade.

Stevie Wonder belted out Richie’s hits “Hello” and “Easy” to the packed audience at the Kennedy Center, as Kenny Rogers, told the 68-year-old singer that “no one deserves this award” more than Richie. Country music star Luke Bryan, music producer Quincy Jones and Grammy-nominated singer Leona Lewis also celebrated Richie, while daughter Nicole Richie told the crowd that her dad is “the happiest person I know.”

“When he answers his phone, he doesn’t say, ‘Hello,’” Richie said, “he screams, ‘Showtime!’ And I’m not exaggerating.”

Also eyed at the Honors soiree: Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeTrump stays out of Arizona's ugly and costly GOP fight Voters will punish Congress for ignoring duty on war and peace GOP Senate candidate truncates Trump tweet in campaign mailer MORE (R-Ariz.), Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulHillicon Valley: Trump escalates feud with intel critics | Tesla shares fall after troubling Musk interview | House panel considers subpoena for Twitter's Jack Dorsey | Why Turkish citizens are breaking their iPhones Overnight Defense: Trump cancels military parade, blames DC for cost | DC mayor hits back | Pentagon warns China 'likely' training for strikes against US | Turkey refuses to release US pastor On Russia we need diplomacy, not just sanctions MORE (R-Ky.) and his wife, Kelley, lobbyist Heather Podesta, Café Milano owner Franco Nuchese snapping a photo of Christine Lagarde and some of the International Monetary Fund managing director’s companions, Transportation Secretary Elaine ChaoElaine Lan ChaoMcConnell: I won't be intimidated by protesters Protesters confront McConnell leaving Kentucky restaurant The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Wild night of primaries reshapes 2018 midterms MORE, former national security adviser Susan Rice, Rep. Debbie DingellDeborah (Debbie) Ann DingellTrump, Obamas and Clintons among leaders mourning Aretha Franklin House Dems press FCC chairman for answers on false cyberattack claim Record numbers of women nominated for governor, Congress MORE (D-Mich.), Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharHillicon Valley: Trump escalates feud with intel critics | Tesla shares fall after troubling Musk interview | House panel considers subpoena for Twitter's Jack Dorsey | Why Turkish citizens are breaking their iPhones The Hill's Morning Report — GOP seeks to hold Trump’s gains in Midwest states Tina Smith defeats former Bush ethics lawyer in Minnesota Dem primary MORE (D-Minn.), Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, Rob Reiner, after overhearing a group of dinnergoers following the ceremony grumbling about their dinner table’s location near the men’s bathroom that the dining spot was a good location to eye every high-profile male VIP, Rep. Doris MatsuiDoris Okada MatsuiLobbying world Overnight Energy: Lawyer who coined 'lock her up' to get EPA post | Refinery owned by ex-Trump adviser gets biofuels waiver | Lawmakers press Pruitt on emissions standards Calif. to fight Trump’s ‘politically motivated’ car standards plan MORE (D-Calif.), Rep. Darrell IssaDarrell Edward IssaDems eyeing smaller magic number for House majority Dems make big play for House in California Clinton maxes out to 19 Democratic House candidates MORE (R-Calif.), “Wonder Woman” actress Lynda Carter, Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist and David Gregory.