Obama’s birthday party: who’s still invited?

Jay-Z and Beyoncé were still there on Friday.

David Axelrod and Larry David were out.

Former President Barack Obama’s 60th birthday was slated to be the biggest social event of the summer for alumni of his administration and friends of the Obama family – a celebrity garden party at the $ 12 million Martha’s Vineyard mansion. of Mr. Obama’s dollars.

But this week, some guests were treated to a cold dose of reality when they were abruptly removed from the guest list – when some of the more daring names were not. The party, uninvited guests were told, had been cut back amid growing concerns over the spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus.

In what appeared to be fodder for a future episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Mr. David, the comedian and owner of a Martha’s Vineyard home, was not invited.

So do the majority of former Obama administration officials who have been eagerly awaiting a reunion after a lonely year, and who generally take credit for helping to create the Obama legacy that made it possible. to the former president to sit so comfortably with the A-list crowd.

There was some reassurance among the whole government that they weren’t the only ones no longer welcome to drinks on the porch with Eddie Vedder, who was still scheduled to attend on Friday. Late night talk show hosts David Letterman and Conan O’Brien were also removed from the guest list.

Mr. Obama’s decision to reduce the guest list to 475 people (a number that Mr. Obama’s camp has never officially confirmed) came nearly a week after President Biden actually admitted that the pandemic had come back in full force, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the Delta variant was as contagious as chickenpox and more likely to break vaccine protections than any other known versions of the virus.

But as masks were put back on in many cities and anxiety mounted, details of Mr. Obama’s party continued to leak. Steven Spielberg was on the guest list, the New York Post reported, along with Spotify-sponsored Mr. Obama’s “renegade” Bruce Springsteen and George Clooney.

An unfounded rumor that Pearl Jam was due to happen must have been officially overturned both by a representative of the group and by Mr. Obama’s own planners. Part of a meatless menu was coordinated by musician Questlove, a detail reported by Bloomberg News on Friday.

Former administration officials said they were somewhat surprised that Mr. Obama was continuing what appeared to be an exaggerated event, even though they said they were not afraid of catching the coronavirus while still being mingling outside with a mostly vaccinated crowd, all of whom had to submit negative tests to enter the property. Many had rented houses together for the weekend.

Still, Democrats backing the former president privately expressed surprise at the flippant disregard for optics and wondered why it took just days before the party for Mr. Obama to change course.

For his part, Mr. Obama was seeking the advice of his most trusted advisers on the best way forward to reorganize a costly and logistically complicated game that had been in the works for months. The former president had baseball caps made for the occasion bearing the words “44 to 60”. He had also hired a “Covid coordinator”, or compliance officer, to ensure the safety of the guests.

Valerie Jarrett, one of the Obamas’ closest friends and advisers, was in favor of cutting the party, according to people close to the schedule. Mr. Obama, these people said, agreed that if his party became a distraction from the White House message that everyone should get vaccinated and take extra precautions, he would adjust his plans.

“I fully support President Obama’s decision,” Jarrett said.

Many inhabitants of the island too.

“A lot of Islanders were very upset that hundreds of people were coming for the party,” said Rose B. Styron, poet and widow of novelist William Styron, who said she had been invited to one place. dispatch Friday night for Obama’s birthday. at the Winnetu Oceanside Resort. “Everyone is very nervous about getting together.”

Ms Styron said she was hosting California friends, writer and producer Roderick Spencer and actress Alfre Woodard, who were invited to the main event at the Obama House on Saturday night.

“They didn’t hear it was canceled until they got on the plane from California,” Ms. Styron said. “We were lucky and we have them for the weekend now. I think they’re pretty happy too.

On Tuesday evening, Michelle Obama’s chief of staff Melissa Winter was one of at least eight people involved in party logistics who were unlucky enough to make phone calls asking former colleagues not to come. Hannah Hankins, spokesperson for Mr. Obama, also spent the evening making these calls.

The calls sparked frenzied group text chains, with former officials trying to analyze the meaning of “significantly reduced” and who made the “close friend” cut.

It soon emerged that Jay-Z and Beyoncé were still guests, along with some of Mr. Obama’s oldest friends in Hawaii, who were spotted on Thursday and Friday bowling and golfing with the former president, who was wearing his birthday cap.

Tom Hanks, one of the first celebrities to reveal he had the coronavirus last year and a longtime Obama ally, was also still invited, although it was not clear he would attend. and that he was recently spotted in Greece.

Oprah Winfrey and Ava DuVernay had pulled out of the party earlier due to concerns about the Delta variant, according to two sources familiar with the planning of the party, leaving Camp Obama to fend for themselves to keep or remove them from the list. . The White House had also said Mr. Biden was not coming.

It was still not clear exactly what the scale of the event would be as of Friday, but the island was buzzing with excitement, with tabloids like The Daily Mail taking paparazzi snaps of food vans arriving at the Obama complex. Reservations for dinner and the boat had been booked weeks in advance. Other events on the island, such as an African-American film festival, were going as planned.

“There are a lot of people here for the event,” said Richard Taylor, a summer resident who writes on the historically Black Oak Bluffs section of Martha’s Vineyard for the Vineyard Gazette. “I’m sure they will accommodate smaller groups.

Unlike Ms Styron, Mr Taylor said he was looking forward to the party.

“He’s got over 20 acres of land and everyone was going to be out there,” he said. “You are dealing with a sophisticated crowd. I think the concerns were a bit exaggerated.

About Jonathan J. Kramer

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