Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOvernight Health Care: Following debate, Biden hammers Trump on coronavirus | Study: Universal mask-wearing could save 130,000 lives | Finger-pointing picks up in COVID-19 relief fight On The Money: Finger-pointing picks up in COVID-19 relief fight | Landlords, housing industry sue CDC to overturn eviction ban Finger-pointing picks up in COVID-19 relief fight MORE (D-Calif.) received a standing ovation at a Trump-less Kennedy Center Honors late Sunday, which largely stayed away from political talk but had moments that alluded to the tense partisan climate around the country.

The ceremony in Washington celebrated five honorees for their lifetime artistic achievements, including actress Sally Field, the children’s TV show “Sesame Street,” singer Linda Ronstadt, conductor Michael Tilson Thomas and the band Earth, Wind & Fire.

While President TrumpDonald John TrumpIvanka Trump, Jared Kusher's lawyer threatens to sue Lincoln Project over Times Square billboards Facebook, Twitter CEOs to testify before Senate Judiciary Committee on Nov. 17 Sanders hits back at Trump's attack on 'socialized medicine' MORE was noticeably absent for the third year in a row from the star-studded gala — which is traditionally attended by the commander in chief — Kennedy Center Board Chairman David Rubenstein said in remarks to the crowd that a record number of lawmakers and government officials were at the 42nd annual soiree.


“We have more leaders of our government than I’ve ever seen at a Kennedy Center Honors,” Rubenstein said.

After a restrained round of applause from the audience for an array of Trump administration Cabinet members, including Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinHillicon Valley: Treasury sanctions Russian group accused of targeting critical facilities | Appeals court rules Uber, Lyft must comply with labor laws | Biden: Countries that target US elections will 'pay a price' Finger-pointing picks up in COVID-19 relief fight Treasury sanctions Russian group accused of targeting US critical facilities with destructive malware MORE, Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossIt's time to reckon with space junk Census Bureau to hold count through end of October Judge begins contempt proceedings for Wilbur Ross over allegedly defying census order MORE, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Education Secretary Betsy DeVosElizabeth (Betsy) Dee DeVosHouse committee subpoenas Education Department staff over for-profit colleges DeVos says it isn't Department of Education's job to track schools' coronavirus reopening plans Judge calls Devos student loan forgiveness process 'disturbingly Kafkaesque' MORE, among others, Rubenstein said, “We have over 40 members of Congress here tonight.”

“I can’t mention you all, but let me just mention the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi,” said Rubenstein.

Suddenly, the audience rose to their feet with zealous cheers and applause.

Saying he was going to next mention “the most senior member of the United States Senate,” Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahySchumer says he had 'serious talk' with Feinstein, declines to comment on Judiciary role Durbin says he will run for No. 2 spot if Dems win Senate majority Democrats seem unlikely to move against Feinstein MORE, Rubenstein quipped that the Vermont Democrat might not get the same enthusiastic reception as Pelosi.


At the top of the show — which will air Dec. 15 on CBS — host LL Cool J shared a message, saying the 2019 honorees use their art “to remind us that as a nation we need to stick together.”

It was a similar call for unity that the “Mama Said Knock You Out” rapper had told ITK on the red carpet ahead of the black-tie event.

“One hundred, 200, 300 years from now, we want our future generations to actually have a country,” the actor, a 2017 Honors recipient, said of the current political climate. “So while we disagree, we have to disagree in a way that’s going to set us up to have a future.”

“I get all of the strife and the tension,” the performer continued. “But at the same time, we got to think about the big picture. If I go in your house right now, and me and a guy I know, we get into a huge fight and a big rumble, we’re going to tear all the furniture in your house.”

“The coffee table’s going to be banged over, couches going to be turned over, tables going to be turned over because we didn’t resolve our differences properly. And look what it does to the house. So a house soon divided will fall, right?”


When a reporter noted Trump’s absence to “Lincoln” actress Field — who in 2016 said she didn’t understand why people had voted for the New York developer-turned-politician — she replied she “wouldn’t be” at the gala if he had attended.

“I’m very closely watching everything,” Field told ITK of the 2020 field of White House contenders. “Like many people, I haven’t landed yet. But I’m applauding almost everyone.”

Asked about Trump’s chances of winning reelection next year, the Academy Award winner responded, “I couldn’t possibly know. All I know is I’m going to be one of the people working as hard as I can do — as we all should be, whatever your beliefs are — working as hard as you can to get people to the polls, to make sure voting is fair, to fight for the things you believe in.”

Buzz about 2020 took a lighter — and tastier — turn as Cookie Monster made his way down the press line ahead of the Honors ceremony.

What would the chocolate chip–loving “Sesame Street” star’s platform be if he were to make a White House bid?

“Me have no desire to run for president. That not in me game plan at all,” Cookie Monster stated matter-of-factly.

While much of Washington is focused on the impeachment proceedings in the House against Trump, Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulMichigan Republican isolating after positive coronavirus test GOP Rep. Mike Bost tests positive for COVID-19 Top Democrats introduce resolution calling for mask mandate, testing program in Senate MORE (R-Ky.) said there was one personality in town who was actively avoiding that and other potentially thorny subjects: Big Bird.

“I think he doesn’t like politics that much, so we’re going to try to keep that [conversation] away from impeachment,” Paul said. “Don’t talk about turkey or Thanksgiving too much, he’s sensitive about being cooked, that kind of thing.”

Also eyed at the annual gala: Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoHillicon Valley: Treasury sanctions Russian group accused of targeting critical facilities | Appeals court rules Uber, Lyft must comply with labor laws | Biden: Countries that target US elections will 'pay a price' Treasury sanctions Russian group accused of targeting US critical facilities with destructive malware Trump announces opening of relations between Sudan and Israel MORE and Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who were seated next to each other, standing up and clapping to the beat while Ne-Yo performed “Sing a Song” to honor Earth, Wind & Fire; Mnuchin dancing along to the Jonas Brothers’ version of “Boogie Wonderland” while Pelosi stayed seated; Rep. Debbie DingellDeborah (Debbie) Ann DingellCedric Richmond's next move: 'Sky's the limit' if Biden wins Pelosi, Mnuchin continue COVID-19 talks amid dwindling odds for deal Pocan won't seek another term as Progressive Caucus co-chair MORE (D-Mich.); CBS’s Norah O’Donnell and Margaret Brennan; Fox News’s Bret Baier; Sens. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezWatchdog confirms State Dept. canceled award for journalist who criticized Trump Kasie Hunt to host lead-in show for MSNBC's 'Morning Joe' Senators ask for removal of tariffs on EU food, wine, spirits: report MORE (D-N.J.) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenPlaintiff and defendant from Obergefell v. Hodges unite to oppose Barrett's confirmation Senate Democrats call for ramped up Capitol coronavirus testing House Democrats slam FCC chairman over 'blatant attempt to help' Trump MORE (D-Ore.); Metallica’s Lars Ulrich on-hand to deliver remarks about Tilson Thomas; Transportation Secretary Elaine ChaoElaine Lan ChaoTravel industry calls on Trump administration to prevent the need for quarantines by creating a testing plan Century of the Woman: Can Leading Women Have it All? Female lawmakers, officials call for more women at all levels of government to improve equity MORE; Garth Brooks cheering on his wife, Tricia Yearwood, as she belted out “You’re no Good” for Ronstadt’s Honors segment; Tom Hanks yukking it up with Big Bird for a scripted segment for the show in which the giant canary was looking for his seating partner he thought was named “Thanks,” rather than “T. Hanks”; Steven Spielberg; Carrie Underwood; John Legend; magician David Copperfield; Broadway star Audra McDonald; Pierce Brosnan; Lucy Liu; Joseph Gordon-Levitt; country singer Thomas Rhett; Cedric the Entertainer; Don Henley; and Emmylou Harris.