Former Defense Secretary James Mattis received a standing ovation Saturday at the annual black-tie Alfalfa Club dinner after delivering a speech in which he honored the troops and talked about the importance of the US’ standing abroad, according to a source with knowledge of the event.
For the third year running, President Donald Trump skipped the annual event – but this year, so did the vice president as well as Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner.
Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen as well as White House advisers Ivanka Trump and Kushner were all on the seating chart for the head table but didn’t show at the event, attended by a who’s who of prominent political and business leaders, according to the source.
Pence’s office told CNN in a statement, “Vice President Pence declined the invitation weeks ago and was not scheduled to attend.”
CNN has reached out to the White House for comment.
Mattis quit the administration in December and pointedly criticized the President in his resignation letter.
The rest of the evening was lighter in tone, with former Secretary of State John Kerry delivering a speech replete with jokes about official Washington and himself. Kerry, the outgoing president of the club – a mainstay of establishment Washington – handed over his leadership role to newly minted Utah GOP Sen. Mitt Romney at the black tie event.
“This is the only speech in Washington that hasn’t been canceled by Nancy Pelosi,” Kerry joked, according to CNN’s source.
The person said the dinner was attended by major business figures including Jeff Bezos, Michael Bloomberg, Warren Buffett, Tim Cook, Bill Gates and Randall Stephenson, CEO of AT&T, which owns CNN parent company WarnerMedia.
Political figures at the dinner included former Vice President Dick Cheney and former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, James Baker, Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell and Rex Tillerson.
Aside from Mattis, Kerry and Romney, the list of speakers included Bezos as well as Chief Justice John Roberts and former Tennessee GOP Sen. Bill Frist.
Among those at the head table currently in the Trump administration were Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker. They sat alongside former administration officials Tillerson, Mattis and former White House chief of staff John Kelly – all of whom were ousted by Trump in the past year.
- “I got to tell you, you all look incredibly dapper tonight in your ball gowns, your tuxedos, your bow ties and your cummerbunds, or as we call it at our house: workout gear. Or as we call it at our other house: pajamas. Or as we call it at our other house: swimming costumes. But tonight it looks like I’ve done something Donald Trump can only dream of: finishing my term.”
- “Donald Trump could be the first President to go to the inaugural of his successor in a limo with license plates made by his campaign manager.”
- “I think we’ve all noticed, there’s been a lot of turnover in this administration. Secretary (Ryan) Zinke was fired. Reince Priebus was fired. Rex Tillerson, Gen. McMaster, Jeff Sessions – all fired. One thing you can say about the Trump people – they’re not quitters. Wilbur Ross is here. I want to thank him for taking care of dessert. He went to the kitchen and said, ‘Let them eat cake.’”
- “Just think, Mitt and I are two of the only people who understand the temptation to run for office in every state where you own a home.”
- “I watched the Oscar nominations a few days ago. And afterwards every single actor said what a great honor it was just to be nominated. … Trust me: It’s not.”
CNN’s Kevin Bohn, Liz Stark and Kate Sullivan contributed to this report.