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Why The Trumps' First State Dinner Is Significant

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

I came across a fascinating detail about the White House when Franklin Roosevelt was president. A biography by Robert Dallek says first lady Eleanor Roosevelt was supposed to oversee the dinner menu, and the food was atrocious. She was too busy being a great first lady. More recent first ladies have outsourced big jobs like planning state dinners, but for tonight's state dinner for French President Emmanuel Macron, Melania Trump took charge. Kate Bennett covers the first lady for CNN. She joins us now.

Good morning.

KATE BENNETT: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Why would Melania do without an event planner?

BENNETT: I think a couple reasons. One, I think it's that she's showing that she is now officially the hostess of the White House. And remember, this is a first lady who didn't move in right away. She waited quite a few months until moving in. And second, this actually plays into Mrs. Trump's wheelhouse. She's - you know, she's not a former political wife. She's not a former attorney. She's not things we've seen before from first ladies. She's an actual - she has design in her background. She's hosted many events. This is sort of more her thing than probably most things she's done since she's been - become first lady, and I think she wanted to showcase that.

INSKEEP: We've gotten an impression from the outside - or some people have, anyway - that perhaps she's not too excited to be doing this job. Is it your sense she is excited about this aspect of it then?

BENNETT: A hundred percent. I think this, again, is something she feels confident about. I do think behind the scenes, we don't see or hear from her a lot, so it's really up to her nonverbal cues, and most the time, we see her sort of stony-faced behind the president in those sunglasses. But, you know, she comes alive around children. She does seem to enjoy life in the White House. Certainly, she has a lot of things at her disposal for dinners like this. And she really - I got a sneak peek at the room last night, and it looks very pretty. And there's lots of gold - gold plates, gold chairs, gold salt and pepper shakers, and the goldest china is actually the Clinton china, which is what she's using for the dinner tonight.

INSKEEP: OK, so not the only president ever to go for gold, but there we go. So what else is on the plan, on the card for tonight?

BENNETT: Well, you know, typically, I think we're sort of spoiled because we're used to seeing the big celebrity turnout and having, you know, performers. Like, Gwen Stefani performed at the last Obama state dinner. But I think that the Trump to-do is going to be a much smaller, more traditional affair. We'll have a performance from the Washington National Opera. The guest list is smaller, about 130 people instead of, you know, 300, 400, which is more typical. There - I was pleased to see that the menu still uses herbs and vegetables from the White House kitchen garden, which was, of course, Michelle Obama's pet project. The dessert tonight, I see, is going to be a nectarine tart with honey from the White House bees, so that means the beehive on the South Lawn is also still in operation. And certainly, there...

INSKEEP: There are first bees. I don't think I even quite realized that. But go on.

BENNETT: Yes, and they - well, they give honey - is typically a gift that visitors and VIPs get from the White House, the White House honey. But, you know, it's going to be an evening that's going to celebrate the Trump administration and the relationship with France. And you'll see influences in the menu, influences in the performances, maybe influences in Melania Trump's gown - the designer she chooses to reflect that.

INSKEEP: Kate Bennett of CNN, pleasure talking with you. Thank you very much.

BENNETT: Thank you.

INSKEEP: She covers the White House and the first lady.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE ONE WORLD ENSEMBLE'S "LA MARSEILLAISE (THE FRENCH NATIONAL ANTHEM - FRANCE)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.