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Biden Brings the Stars to the White House

by Staff

WASHINGTON — Call it Celebrity Week at the White House.

For the second day in a row, President Biden on Tuesday hosted a pack of famous figures from the arts and basked in the glow of the glamorous.

A day after meeting with cast members from the hit show “Ted Lasso,” Mr. Biden bestowed National Medals of Arts and National Humanities Medals to a passel of acclaimed actors, musicians and writers including Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Bruce Springsteen, Gladys Knight, Amy Tan and Colson Whitehead.

“The work of our honorees is as diverse as the nation that celebrates with them today,” Mr. Biden said at a ceremony in the East Room of the White House. “But common threads weave them together in many ways in the very fabric of America — the pursuit of excellence, the drive to create, the yearning to connect and the boldness to be truth tellers, bridge builders and change seekers. Above all, you’re masters of your craft.”

Such events are one of the perks of being president, a welcome respite from the daunting issues of war and peace that consume so much of the schedule in the Situation Room. And Mr. Biden seemed in particularly good spirits as he bantered with the stars of stage, screen, literature and the classroom. He lightheartedly warned the women that he might “mess up your hair” when he draped the medals over their heads, joked with Ms. Knight that “I was one of the Pips” and peppered Mr. Springsteen with New Jersey quips.

He seemed especially happy to welcome “President Julia Louis-Dreyfus,” who played a vice president who ascended to the Oval Office on “Veep” and appeared at the Democratic National Convention in 2020 on Mr. Biden’s behalf.

“I’m going to talk with Julia today about whether she liked being V.P. or president better,” Mr. Biden told the crowd. “I’ve got to figure that one out.”

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He recalled that when he met the iconic fashion designer Vera Wang backstage before the event, he told her, “Every time I open the closet, I see her.”

His wife, Jill Biden, scolded him, he said. “What are you saying that for?” he quoted her saying.

“It’s all those labels!” he said.

Then he turned to Ms. Wang. “You knew what I meant to begin with, didn’t you?” he asked. “I guess I could have said it a little better when I said, ‘I open the closet, I see you all the time.’” But as the audience laughed, he added: “Your dresses always look beautiful on my wife, God love her.”

Among the other honorees in the arts category on Tuesday were the artist and social activist Judith Francisca Baca; the arts patron Fred Eychaner; the singer José Feliciano; the comedian and actor Mindy Kaling; the painter Antonio Martorell-Cardona; and the film and television producer Joan Shigekawa, as well as the Billie Holiday Theater and the International Association of Blacks in Dance.

Among the honorees in the humanities category were the poet and author Richard Blanco; the educator Johnnetta B. Cole; the biographer Walter Isaacson; the social historian Earl Lewis; the Native American studies scholar Henrietta Mann; the novelist Ann Patchett; the social justice lawyer Bryan Stevenson; and the memoirist Tara Westover, as well as “Native America Calling,” the call-in radio show.

As he recognized Mr. Whitehead, Mr. Biden noted that he is the only writer to have won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for back-to-back works, “The Underground Railroad” and “The Nickel Boys.”

“Pretty good, man,” said the first-term president hoping to become a second-term president. “I’m kind of looking for back-to-back myself.”

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