WASHINGTON—President Bush welcomed Queen Elizabeth II with blaring trumpets and a 21-gun salute Monday before hosting his first high-formal White House dinner.
It took the combined efforts of first lady Laura Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to get him into white tie and tails, but the notoriously casual president put on a show befitting royalty for the queen and husband Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. The daylong display of pomp began with an elaborate welcoming ceremony on the White House lawn and ended with a state dinner of Dover sole and spring lamb.
The Union Jack flapped beside the Stars and Stripes on street lamps along Pennsylvania Avenue as a fife-and-drum corps in colonial-era garb paraded before the queen on a spectacular spring day.
The royal visit gave Bush a chance to set aside his problems while celebrating ties to one of America's closest allies. Among the postponed concerns: A poll that Newsweek magazine released over the weekend showed that 28 percent of Americans approve of his job performance, a record low, while 64 percent disapprove. The remaining 8 percent offered no opinion.
The president alluded to his troubles as he welcomed the queen on her fifth visit to the United States and her first since 1991. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose popularity also has plummeted as a result of the Iraq war, has been one of Bush's staunchest international supporters.
"Today our two nations are defending liberty against tyranny and terror," the president said. "Our work has been hard. The fruits of our work have been difficult for many to see."
Queen Elizabeth said her visit was a chance to examine the "inextricably woven" history of two countries that have fought against and with each other.
"It is the moment to take stock of our present friendship, rightly taking pleasure from its strengths, while never taking these for granted. And it is the time to look forward, jointly renewing our commitment to a more prosperous, safer and freer world," she said.
Bush inadvertently drew laughter from a large crowd of British and American spectators on the White House lawn when he momentarily confused the dates of the American Revolution and its 200th anniversary.
"You've dined with 10 presidents. You helped our nation celebrate its bicentennial in 17—in 1976," he said, correcting himself. Glancing sheepishly toward the queen, who ignored the slip-up, the president joked, "She gave me a look that only a mother could give a child."
In fact, Bush's real mother warned the queen about her son before their first meeting in 1991, when his father was president. At a White House luncheon for the visiting monarch, then-first lady Barbara Bush joked that she'd seated her eldest son at the far end of the table and told him to keep quiet.
"Are you the black sheep of the family?" the queen asked George W. Bush, according to Barbara Bush's memoirs.
"I guess that might be true," he replied.
"Well, I guess all families have one," the queen said.
The president was on his best behavior for Queen Elizabeth's latest White House visit, even if it did take a little coaxing.
"I don't know how thrilled he was about this, but, of course, when you're hosting the queen of England, of course you want to have it be white tie," Laura Bush said on ABC's "Good Morning America." "We did sort of have to convince him a little bit."
The list of 134 dinner guests included former first lady Nancy Reagan, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, golfer Arnold Palmer, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, NBC correspondent David Gregory, Kentucky Derby winning jockey Calvin Borel and violinist Itzhak Perlman, the featured entertainer.
Earlier in the day, the Bushes and their guests made a rare unannounced appearance outside the White House to greet a group of more than 350 schoolchildren on Pennsylvania Avenue. The queen received flowers and signed autographs. The president got a tight hug from a screaming Shayla Young, a 14-year-old eighth-grader. In a rare display of deference, Bush walked a few paces behind the queen.
Queen Elizabeth will return the hospitality and wrap up her six-day trip with a dinner for the Bushes at the British Embassy on Tuesday night.
McClatchy Newspapers 2007