WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden, hosting both Republican and Democratic governors for a black-tie affair at the White House, raised his glass for a toast.
Standing under a portrait of Abraham Lincoln, he told the people in the room to remember who they were. "We're the United States of America. We can get big things done if we do it together."
"Cheers!" the crowd replied, as the clink-clink of glasses rippled about the State Dining Room.
Biden hosted the dinner for members of the National Governors Association at the White House for the first time in his administration. It's usually a tradition, but the dinner was held last year at Mount Vernon, George Washington's Virginia estate, and virtually in 2021 because of COVID-19.
The dinner came as federal leaders seemed as divided as ever with the new Republican majority in the House courting a risky debt ceiling showdown.
On Saturday at the White House, though, the message was togetherness — and not just because the room was tightly packed with governors, spouses and Cabinet members. Biden and both associations' leaders, Republican Gov. Spencer Cox of Utah and Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey, spoke about the need to put aside the increasingly rancorous political differences in order to work together to better the nation.
"I think when we work together it works," Biden said, adding he'd work to be a little more bipartisan and praised the work of the governors.
The tables were set with purple velvet tablecloths, china bearing the presidential seal and large floral centerpieces in white and pink.
Cabinet members were mixed with governors in ball gowns, tuxedos and sparkles. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer sat near Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo. Maryland Gov. Wes Moore and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, both Democrats, sat near Vice President Kamala Harris. Not far away were Republican Govs. Bill Lee of Tennessee and Doug Burgum of North Dakota.
First lady Jill Biden held a service project event earlier Saturday for spouses, but she had to skip a Friday event because she wasn't feeling well. She tested negative for COVID-19.
Biden, who does not drink, gave the toast with his left hand, explaining he'd been told by his grandfather that that's just what you did when you don't have alcohol in the glass. Cox, who also doesn't drink, did the same when he toasted, telling the room it was ginger ale.
"It's symbolic to have Republicans and Democrats breaking bread together," Cox said. "This is what is missing."
"And I believe that the people of our country, at least the exhausted majority, wants us to be doing more of this."
Cox thanked Biden and the first lady before introducing Murphy, who joked that he was definitely holding his glass in his right hand. He said their party affiliations were less important than the shared moniker of "Americans."
After dinner, the guests filed into the East Room, where country singer Brad Paisley performed the song "American Saturday Night" and other tunes. (KB/VOA)