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 FlakeMcConnell: 'Whoever gets to 60 wins' on immigration Huckabee Sanders: Dems need to decide if they 'hate' Trump 'more than they love this country' Trump spokeswoman fires back at Flake: 'His numbers are in the tank' MORE (R-Ariz.), Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulPentagon: War in Afghanistan will cost billion in 2018 Overnight Finance: Senators near two-year budget deal | Trump would 'love to see a shutdown' over immigration | Dow closes nearly 600 points higher after volatile day | Trade deficit at highest level since 2008 | Pawlenty leaving Wall Street group Rand Paul calls for punishment if Congress can't reach a long-term budget deal 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 ChaoDOT calls on Schumer to move forward with confirmation of railroad nominee citing GOP train crash Overnight Finance: GOP eyes vote to fund government through March 23 | How much credit should Trump get for economy? | Dems vow to repeal parts of GOP tax law | Mulvaney shakes up office policing racism in lending GOP chairman: Republicans' reactions 'mixed' on gas tax increase MORE, former national security adviser Susan Rice, Rep. Debbie DingellDeborah (Debbie) Ann DingellEx-Dem lawmaker on GOP memo release: ‘Lock every single one of these bastards up’ Wife of deported Detroit man: ‘It’s a nightmare’ Shutdown debate heats up Trump's powder keg of a State of the Union MORE (D-Mich.), Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharOvernight Regulation: EPA sued over water rule delay | House passes bill to ease ObamaCare calorie rule | Regulators talk bitcoin | Patient groups oppose FDA 'right to try' bill Overnight Finance: Senators near two-year budget deal | Trump would 'love to see a shutdown' over immigration | Dow closes nearly 600 points higher after volatile day | Trade deficit at highest level since 2008 | Pawlenty leaving Wall Street group Dem senator presses FTC to ramp up Equifax hack probe 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 MatsuiWe need to do more than just talk about mental illness Trump-free Kennedy Center Honors avoids politics John Legend: Winner of 2020 Dem nomination will be 'more qualified' than Trump MORE (D-Calif.), Rep. Darrell IssaDarrell Edward IssaHouse rejects effort to condemn lawmaker for demanding 'Dreamer' arrests Hispanic Dems seek vote to condemn GOP lawmaker for demanding arrests of 'Dreamers' GOP Rep. Hunter posts meager campaign fundraising amid controversy MORE (R-Calif.), “Wonder Woman” actress Lynda Carter, Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist and David Gregory.