After fleeing Trump, will celebs return to DC under Biden?
© Getty Images/iStock/Julia Nikhinson

After four years of avoiding Washington like the plague under former President TrumpDonald TrumpSenators introduce bipartisan infrastructure bill in rare Sunday session Gosar's siblings pen op-ed urging for his resignation: 'You are immune to shame' Sunday shows - Delta variant, infrastructure dominate MORE — not to mention reduced travel due to an actual plague — Hollywood stars may soon be lighting up the nation's capital once again.

The major entertainers who used to touch down regularly in D.C. to lobby lawmakers for their passion projects, pay a visit to the White House or strike a pose on the red carpet for their politically themed films or TV shows all but abandoned the city in the Trump era.

Even pre-coronavirus pandemic, A-list celebrities — be they Oprah WinfreyOprah Gail WinfreyA new kind of hero? Last week's emotional TV may be a sign Obama setting up big bash to celebrate his 60th Prince Harry announces memoir MORE popping into the Obama White House, or Julia-Louis Dreyfus promoting the latest season of "Veep," or Ben Affleck testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about Congo — became "largely nonexistent" in the District when Trump took office, says longtime Washington-based publicist Barbara Martin.

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Appalled by the 45th president, typically left-leaning Hollywood skipped the annual White House Correspondents' Association dinner and other high-profile events around town. Star athletes — including U.S. Women’s World Cup champion Megan Rapinoe, Boston Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts and Washington Nationals pitcher Sean Doolittle  — turned down invitations to the Trump White House when their teams won national titles.

Instead, Trump doled out honors to his sprinkling of entertainment industry allies: awarding the National Medal of Arts to "Deliverance" actor Jon Voight in 2019 and giving golfer Tiger Woods the Medal of Freedom in a Rose Garden ceremony that same year.

Also among the notable Trump White House visits: “Bawitdaba” singer Kid Rock, guitarist Ted Nugent and former GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin yukked it up at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in 2017, and rapper Kanye WestKanye Omari WestHarris's stepdaughter makes Paris Fashion Week debut Caitlyn Jenner: My family not 'involved whatsoever' in gubernatorial bid Chris Rock, 'SNL' cast reflect on 'messed up' year in politics, pop culture during season finale MORE put on a pro-Trump hat during a wild Oval Office appearance in 2018.

“You were really only getting a few people who agree with Trump: a couple rappers, country music folks, sports folks,” says Amy Bree Becker, an associate professor of communications at Loyola University Maryland. “It was hard for [Trump] to even find a song he could play at his rallies without getting in trouble.”

Martin, co-founder and co-CEO of D.C. marketing and public relations firm the Brand Guild, links the entertainment industry dry spell to a then-president who never dined out in the city he called home, aside from trips to his eponymous downtown hotel. Just days after being sworn in, President Biden made a bagel run at Call Your Mother deli in Washington’s Georgetown neighborhood.

"I do think that in many ways the president sets the tone of the city," Martin says.

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That's why she is among those who say performers are likely planning their return under the new commander in chief.

"If the inauguration is any indication, I think D.C. is back," the PR guru says of Biden's star-studded ceremony last month.

“When Lady Gaga and Jennifer Lopez are singing at the inauguration, you can say D.C. is open for business,” says Mark Harvey, the author of “Celebrity Influence: Politics, Persuasion, and Issue-based Advocacy.”

Harvey, who serves as the graduate programs director at the University of Saint Mary in Kansas, contends celebrities actually may have yielded more power under Trump than before, despite their rare sightings.

“I think in some ways celebrities were more influential than they have been during other administrations. I think part of that is that Donald Trump was unusual and unorthodox in the way he went about things,” Harvey says.

In 2018, Trump famously granted clemency to Alice Marie Johnson, who was serving a life sentence on nonviolent drug and money laundering charges, following an Oval Office visit with reality TV star and criminal justice advocate Kim Kardashian WestKimberly (Kim) Noel Kardashian WestHow to turn the tide on vaccine hesitancy: Apply an algorithm that actually works Michael B. Jordan to rename his rum brand after appropriation accusations Kim Kardashian West sued by domestic workers, accused of improper pay, not giving breaks MORE.

“It was I think relatively easy for Kim KardashianKimberly (Kim) Noel Kardashian WestHow to turn the tide on vaccine hesitancy: Apply an algorithm that actually works Michael B. Jordan to rename his rum brand after appropriation accusations Kim Kardashian West sued by domestic workers, accused of improper pay, not giving breaks MORE, or Kanye West, or whoever, to just sort of come around if they were willing to talk or maybe even pander to [Trump,]” Harvey says. The former president, Harvey adds, “actually did some things that probably just came straight out of the mouth of a celebrity and then straight out of his pen: There were pardons, policy changes.”

While plenty of presidents have played host to Hollywood stars over the years — a 1970 picture of former President Nixon shaking hands with Elvis Presley at the White House has long been one of the most-requested snapshots in the National Archives — oftentimes those appearances have amounted to nothing more than a photo-op.

“Politicians, they frequently hosted celebrities, but I would argue it’s not very often you’ve seen this direct payoff,” says Harvey.

Biden, unlike the former face of “Celebrity Apprentice,” may also be more open to sharing the stage with an entertainer.

For Trump, "his family was the celebrity — there was a reality show on display,” Becker says. “I think part of it was maybe him not wanting to share the attention, too.”

Tommy McFly, a radio host and co-founder of the digital platform Real.Fun.DC., predicts the star wattage around the nation’s capital will brighten under Biden, after four years of “celebrities in Washington during the Trump years [seeming] to go around the White House.”

The longtime broadcaster and red carpet regular says once COVID-19 is under control, celebrity interest “with a purpose-driven approach” in D.C. will increase.

While some critics argue Hollywood heavyweights should stick to their scripts and butt out of the political arena, Harvey says in a hyper-partisan climate, Americans are “so down on politicians, and celebrities sort of fill that gap to some extent.”

“I think a wise politician might actually use celebrities more now to advance their causes in this polarized environment,” he says.

“It could be that they stay away because things are crazy, or it could be they’re asked to be brought in because they can bring people together.”

But Loyola’s Becker says under Biden, the spotlight will beam on Washington: “I think we’ll see more interest in D.C. in general. All of the sudden there’s a president who wants to be part of D.C. again.”