President Bush and first lady Laura Bush proved last night that although they don’t often entertain, they have a golden touch.
The State Dining Room was magically transformed into an Indian garden — with bright yellow, orange and red flowers for visiting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife, Gursharan Kaur, complete with saffron-hued silk tablecloths draped in gold overlay and trumpeting elephants fashioned from fresh hot pink and green mums and roses.
In a nod to Indian cuisine, the White House served pan roasted halibut and basmati rice. For dessert, pastry chef Thaddeus Dubois created chocolate lotus blossoms with a melange of ice creams.
Mr. Bush offfered a brief toast to the prime minister, saying the two nations “are closer than ever before.”
In return, Mr. Singh thanked the president on behalf “of the people of India” and lauded the generosity of the American people.
“I sincerely believe there is truly very much we have in common. However, in the recent past our communication has been clearer. A great deal of this credit goes to you, Mister President.”
Mr. Singh noted that Christopher Columbus, while sailing west in search of a sea route to India, discovered America — a remark which drew laughter.
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas said it was only the second time he had been invited to a fancy White House dinner. “In this administration,” he said, and was honored to be included.
Although it wasn’t officially a state dinner, it had all the elan of one, including men in black tie, ladies in designer gowns. Mrs. Bush looked summery in a yellow-and-orange ruffled print Bill Blass dress. Indeed, just back from her Africa trip, she appeared more relaxed and confident than ever.
Asked why he was invited to the White House, historian and author David McCullough gave his wife a tight hug. “It’s because Rosalee is such a terrific dancer.” (The president is currently reading the author’s new bestseller, “1776.”)
There were 134 guests, and they dined on the ivory and gold Clinton china, which was also shined up for the state dinner for Kenya’s president two years ago.
The Bushes have been criticized by social Washington for their lack of party throwing — hosting only four state dinners since taking office in January 2001 — so last night’s guest list was being dissected as a crucial piece of evidence of who’s in and who’s out. Among the family, there weren’t any other Bushs.
Among the journalists, David Brooks of the New York Times and Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard were invited. Staff members Andrew H. Card Jr., Stephen J. Hadley, and Mrs. Bush’s chief of staff Anita McBride, were on hand. Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynn, made the list, as well as Secretary of State Condaleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his wife, Joyce.
Noticeably absent was Karl Rove, embroiled in the media frenzy surrounding the Valerie Plame CIA leak. But I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Mr. Cheney’s chief of staff who is also under scrutiny for his role in the Plame affair, was included.
After dinner, the guests were treated to a concert by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and 126 more guests were invited to attend the concert.
Mr. Bush seemed to enjoy the evening after a full day of diplomacy with the Indian prime minister who is staying at Blair House across Pennsylvania Avenue.
And yes, Mr. Bush was early to bed, as is his custom.