(The Hill) — Washington delivered a bipartisan salute to the stars — and welcomed back Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul, following a brutal attack — as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle feted this year’s Kennedy Center Honors recipients.
The performing arts institution named for the country’s 35th president presented its most prestigious award to five figures on Sunday: George Clooney, Gladys Knight, the members of U2, Christian pop singer and songwriter Amy Grant and composer Tania León.
The Honors recipients are “recognized for their contributions to American culture through the performing arts,” according to the Kennedy Center.
For the second year in a row, President Joe Biden attended the black-tie affair. Biden’s presence there marked a dramatic shift from recent years, when then-President Donald Trump bucked the tradition of a sitting president being on-hand for the gala, steering clear of the event throughout his presidency.
Legendary “Midnight Train to Georgia” songstress Knight recounted to reporters on the red carpet a visit to the White House to meet with Biden just ahead of the Honors gala.
“I’ve been knowing him for so long, even though he’s the president,” Knight, 78, said of Biden. “I felt like he was my brother.”
“We go way back, you know whether it is good or bad, because some of them aren’t what they should be,” she said. “But he is amazing. He has such a gentle heart.”
Lawmakers eyed at the 45th annual Honors included Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R); Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah), and Reps. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), Joyce Beatty (D- Ohio) and Jim McGovern (D-Mass.)
“I am actually really excited that everyone’s coming and we’re seeing a number of Republicans here tonight,” Klobuchar said when asked if the share of Democrats and Republicans could perhaps be a sign of thawing partisan tensions in Congress.
“The arts brings people together, and Washington is ready to talk, and see each other again, and dust off the old dresses and tuxes and maybe be able to wear the shoes for one hour because we’re all used to flat shoes,” Klobuchar quipped.
Asked about the bipartisan Honors turnout, Romney told ITK, “I think that the Senate has worked on a bipartisan basis for a long time. We get along great and we’ve done a lot of things over the last couple of years.”
“We’re becoming a little more polarized as a nation, and that’s been reflected in the people that are being elected,” Romney said. “So hopefully we can keep the bipartisan effort alive.”
“We’re doing a change of the guard, and I would certainly hope that with a new generation of leaders, we’ll have a new beginning,” Beatty said, calling the evening a “great start.”
During the awards ceremony, the crowd rose in a thunderous standing ovation as Kennedy Center Board of Trustees Chairman David Rubenstein announced that Paul Pelosi, the husband of the Speaker, was in the audience. It was the first public appearance for 82-year-old Pelosi since he was injured in an October attack in the couple’s San Francisco home by a suspect allegedly looking for the California Democrat.
Pelosi and her husband clenched hands and raised them together in a triumphant gesture as the audience applauded.
During a segment honoring U2, actor and comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, as his famed R-rated character Borat sent shockwaves through the packed crowd as he delivered some NSFW Trump-thumping one-liners directed at Biden.
“I am told the president of the U.S. and A. is here today,” said Cohen, in Borat’s thick, faux Kazakhstani accent.
“Where are you, Mr. Trump’s?” the comedian cracked. Eyeing Biden watching from above in the presidential box, the entertainer quipped, “You don’t look so good! Where has your glorious belly gone and your pretty orange skin?”
At another point, Cohen told the commander-in-chief as he sat alongside first lady Jill Biden, “I see you have a new wife. Woah, woah, wow!” The Bidens were seen both laughing at the remark.
“I must say I am upset about the antisemitism in the U.S. and A. It’s not fair,” Cohen exclaimed. “Kazakhstan is number one Jew-crushing nation. Stop stealing our hobby. Stop the steal!” Cohen chanted, appearing to borrow a phrase from supporters of Trump’s unfounded claims of mass electoral fraud in the 2020 presidential election. Cohen then performed a short song that concluded with him gyrating against a guitar.
As actor Julia Roberts, jazz singer Dianne Reeves and actor Don Cheadle celebrated the life and career of Academy Award winner Clooney, actor Matt Damon recalled a trick that the “Gravity” star, a notorious prankster, once played.
Clooney, Damon said, once “stole Bill Clinton’s stationery and wrote fake notes to actors saying how much the president loved their movies.”
Also spotted at the Honors were former Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.); Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and husband Chasten Buttigieg; the nation’s leading infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci, who received applause from fans as he walked through the halls of the Kennedy Center; CNN’s Jake Tapper speaking with actor Richard Kind; Fox News Channel’s Bret Baier; former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos; NASA Administrator Bill Nelson; entrepreneur Susanna Quinn; “The View’s” Ana Navarro; “CNN This Morning’s” Kaitlan Collins, and CBS’s Norah O’Donnell.
The Kennedy Center Honors is poised to air Dec. 28 on CBS.