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Academy Award nominee Bradley Cooper is expected to join President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama — and 349 other guests — for a state dinner honoring French President Francois Hollande Tuesday night at the White House. Other expected guests include Stephen Colbert, J.J. Abrams, CNN head Jeff Zucker, Veep‘s Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman, The Mindy Project‘s Mindy Kaling, MSNBC’s Rev. Al Sharpton and Tennis Channel’s Ken Solomon.
With the midterms looming, the first couple is throwing one of its biggest social affairs ever, abandoning the traditional White House dining rooms for a tent on the South Lawn that can accommodate big Democratic donors from across the country.
Once the festivities got underway, Colbert was seated next to the first lady, while Louis-Dreyfus, who plays the vice president on TV, was seated next to real-life veep Joe Biden. Cooper was seen chatting up Secretary of State John Kerry.
Cooper made the cut not only because of his Oscar nomination for American Hustle, but also because he’s a particularly knowledgeable Francophile who picked up fluent French as a student at Georgetown and subsequently spent six months on an exchange program in Aix-en-Provence.
Cooper apparently wowed French fans when he attended the Parisian premiere of American Hustle on Feb. 3. Afterward, he gave interviews to the local press in fluent French, always a key to opening the provincial hearts of the Grand Republic’s citizens. Cooper praised his castmembers and, with what the French would regard as almost un-American modesty, replied to a question about whether he was expecting an Oscar by saying in perfect French, “No, I don’t think so. You never know, but I don’t think so.”
Hollande arrived in Washington with baggage that was not necessarily of the French designer sort. At home, the socialist president’s approval ratings have been in something of a free fall over continued high unemployment, economic stagnation and growing public unease over immigration. Internationally, on the other hand, France’s renewed activism abroad, particularly in Libya, Syria and Iran — as well as military intervention in troubled Mali and Central Africa — has created a new sense of warm commonality with the United States.
Then there’s the matter of the French president going stag to Tuesday’s White House state dinner. Some weeks ago, he split with his partner of seven years, Valerie Trierweiler, after it was discovered he was leaving the presidential palace at night on a motor scooter for trysts with a much younger actress. Usually indifferent to the private lives of their politicians, the French press has had a field day with l’affaire Hollande, splashing it on the front pages. (Actually, Hollande’s predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, turned up alone for an evening at the White House after announcing he was divorcing his wife on the eve of his departure for Washington.)
Hollande’s visit with the first family has been a particularly warm one, marked by an obvious ease made possible in part by the French chief executive’s fluent English. Monday, for example, both obviously enjoyed a social visit to Monticello, home of America’s third president and perhaps the nation’s most prominent Francophile in his day. Thomas Jefferson never forgot his happy service as America’s chief minister to France in the years leading up to the French Revolution, and in that country he is revered as a co-writer of the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.
For their part, the first family and their staff seemed to go out of their way to give tonight’s state dinner friendly touches. The wines, as always, are American, but all three — Morlet “La Proportion Doree” 2011 from Napa Valley; Chester-Kidder Red Blend 2009 from Washington State’s Columbia Valley; and Thibaut-Jannison “Blanc de Chardonnay,” a sparkling wine form Monticello, Virginia — all come from wineries with France-born vintners.
On Wednesday Hollande flies on to San Francisco, where he set to meet with Silicon Valley investors and entrepreneurs.
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