President BidenJoe BidenFox News reporter says Biden called him after 'son of a b----' remark Peloton responds after another TV character has a heart attack on one of its bikes Defense & National Security — Pentagon puts 8,500 troops on high alert MORE and a who’s who of Washington clapped and laughed as they marked a celebration at the Kennedy Center Honors that seemed nearly normal amid the coronavirus pandemic, but the ceremony couldn’t shake mentions of the 46th president’s predecessor.

The scene Sunday at the Kennedy Center of a packed audience singing along to tributes to this year’s five Honorees — Bette Midler, “Saturday Night Live” creator Lorne Michaels, Motown Records founder Berry Gordy, Joni Mitchell and opera singer Justino Díaz — was likely unimaginable just a year ago as COVID-19 gripped the country. The 2020 ceremony was postponed and held earlier this year. Attendees at the 2021 Honors, the Kennedy Center’s prestigious award for "lifetime artistic achievement," were required to wear face masks and submit both proof of vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test.

But perhaps the most notable guest among the high-wattage star power was Biden. Throughout his entire time in office, then-President TrumpDonald TrumpFormer New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver dead at 77 Biden, Democrats losing ground with independent and suburban voters: poll Bipartisan Senate group discusses changes to election law MORE bucked tradition and opted against the long-held practice of a sitting president attending the annual gala following criticism from several of the Honorees in 2017.


Biden received a standing ovation on Sunday — one of two throughout the evening — when David Letterman noted the commander in chief's presence.

"Tonight it's quite nice, very nice, to see the presidential box once again being occupied," the former "Late Show" host and a frequent critic of Trump said to extended applause for Biden.

"And same with the Oval Office," Letterman cracked.

David Rubenstein, the Kennedy Center's chairman, also noted the return and praised the president and first lady Jill BidenJill BidenThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden talks, Senate balks Jill Biden adds to communications team in lead-up to midterm elections Harris invokes MLK in voting rights push, urges Senate to 'do its job' MORE, leading to more cheers from the audience, which rose to its feet.

"I'd particularly like to thank the president of the United States and the first lady for continuing this tradition of being here and honoring" the night's recipients, Rubenstein said.


While Trump's name was never uttered during the more than four-hour soiree — which will air on CBS on Dec. 22 — his shadow seemed to hang over the black-tie event.

During a faux "Weekend Update" sketch honoring Michaels, "SNL" cast member Michael Che told the crowd, "This is so nerve-wracking."

"I haven't been in D.C. since Jan. 6," he continued, naming the same date that pro-Trump rioters stormed the Capitol.

"It's not what you think — I needed a new laptop," Che quipped.

The comedian also took a slight dig at Biden, cracking that he was nervous to do jokes in front of the commander in chief.


"I keep having to remind myself there's no way he's still awake right now," Che said, which elicited a grin from Biden.

The president was seen in clips filmed at a reception for the honorees ribbing some of the entertainment industry bigwigs. He razzed Michaels, who he dubbed "Mr. Wise Guy," for "trying out seven guys" to portray him on "Saturday Night Live."

"If we can't laugh at ourselves, we're in trouble," Biden said. "You make me laugh at myself a lot."

Among the Hollywood and political faces eyed both on and off stage: Vice President Harris and second gentleman Doug EmhoffDoug EmhoffThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden faces Ukraine decision amid Russia aggression The Hill's Morning Report - US warns Kremlin, weighs more troops to Europe The Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems look to repackage BBB into salvageable bill MORE, Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiSenators huddle on Russia sanctions as tensions escalate Schumer requests Senate briefing on Ukraine amid Russia tensions Biden rushes to pressure Russia as Ukraine fears intensify MORE (D-Calif.) — who told ITK she was starstruck by "all of" the performers — Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinEven working piecemeal, Democrats need a full agenda for children Poll: 30 percent of Americans say they approve of the job Congress is doing Bipartisan Senate group discusses changes to election law MORE (D-W.Va.), Scarlett Johansson and Colin Jost, Goldie Hawn, "Schitt's Creek" star Dan Levy, Billy Porter — who gave an electrifying performance of Midler's hits onstage — Brandi Carlile, Judy Collins, White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiSchumer requests Senate briefing on Ukraine amid Russia tensions Biden rushes to pressure Russia as Ukraine fears intensify Pelosi requests all-member briefing on Ukraine MORE, former Transportation Secretary Elaine ChaoElaine ChaoHogan won't say if he will file to run for Senate by Feb. 22 deadline Top Republicans pressing Hogan to run for Senate Biden returns restores tradition, returning to Kennedy Center Honors MORE, Smokey Robinson, Amy Poehler, Transportation Secretary Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden talks, Senate balks Airlines suspend US flights in response to 5G deployment AT&T, Verizon to delay 5G rollout near certain airports MORE and his husband Chasten Buttigieg, Norah Jones, Pete Davidson, Jimmy Fallon, Martin Short, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, Kenan Thompson, Denyce Graves, Harris senior adviser Symone SandersSymone SandersSymone Sanders hired by MSNBC Staffer who had contact with Harris tests positive for COVID-19 White House points finger at the press MORE, Kevin Nealon, Seth Meyers, Beanie Feldstein, former Speaker Newt GingrichNewton (Newt) Leroy GingrichMORE (R-Ga.) and Callista Gingrich, Steve Martin, Kate McKinnon, Kristen Wiig, Kelli O'Hara and Stevie Wonder, who closed out the show with "Higher Ground" alongside Andra Day, Ellie Goulding, Brittany Howard and Porter.