Politics|In Shadow of Ukraine Scandal, White House Hosts Second State Dinner of Trump Era
WASHINGTON — Scott Morrison, the Australian prime minister, was invited for a rare state visit to the White House on Friday with a red-carpet welcome that included a twinkling Rose Garden dinner, a cordial news conference and a televised presidential screed about the latest scandal involving his administration.
The military-filled arrival ceremony had barely concluded when President Trump escorted Mr. Morrison into the Oval Office and, in front of a group of journalists, began disparaging a whistle-blower’s complaint that put his ability to conduct himself appropriately with fellow world leaders into question. The prime minister had little choice but to jump into the fray.
As Mr. Trump derided the complaint,which is said to be abouthis repeatedly pressing the Ukrainian president to talk with Rudolph W. Giuliani, his personal lawyer who has been calling for an investigation into former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his family, he looked over at Mr. Morrison.
“I’ve had conversations with many leaders,” Mr. Trump said. “They’re always appropriate. I think Scott can tell you that.”
Finding himself all but ordered to praise Mr. Trump’s behavior with allies created an odd situation for a fellow world leader who had been invited to take part in only the second state visit of Mr. Trump’s administration. As a moredamning pictureof Mr. Trump’s conduct with Ukraine came into focus, both men made efforts to keep it from overshadowing the ceremony, capping off a day full of announcements of sanctions against Iran and asmall troop deployment to the Middle Eastwith a state dinner that resembled a cross between a Mar-a-Lago patio gathering and a black-tie political rally.
As the day went on, Mr. Morrison seemed to signal repeatedly that he was an ally just as happy to help as he was to stay out of Mr. Trump’s way.
“Mr. President, Australia may often look to the United States but we have never been a country that been prepared to leave it to the United States,” Mr. Morrison said to the president just after he arrived alongside his wife, Jenny. “We don’t. That’s not our way. We pull our weight.”
Mr. Morrison mirrored Mr. Trump’s “we’ll see what happens”stance on the idea of using further military force against Iran, and let Mr. Trump take the lead in his aggressive pursuit of a trade deal with China, a country the president called a “threat to the world” in a news conference on Friday. For his part, Mr. Morrison said he would like a deal to be reached in the name of global stability.
When it comes to managing the president’s mercurial instincts, some of his foreign allieshave tried the bromance approachto get what they want. Others havetempted himwith royal trappings, like the British did by invoking the actual queen of England. Twice. In his own state visit, Mr. Morrison’s pragmatic approach was a marked difference from the way Emmanuel Macron, the French president, participated in the Trump administration’s first state visit last year.
During that visit, the two leaders made a show of how much they seemed to personally like each other, even though Mr. Macron had made it clear he had hoped to sway Mr. Trump against pulling the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal.
In the end, their performative bonding proved unable to preserve that pact, and the situation in Iran had devolved into a diplomatic tinder box by the time Mr. Morrison’s limousine pulled up to the White House. Mr. Morrison told reporters on Friday that Australia had not been asked to engage further in the conflict in Iran beyond protecting ships from Iranian threats in the critical Strait of Hormuz.
Faced with a list of pressing global matters, Mr. Morrison, for his part, seemed to embrace his status as a just-happy-to-be-here ally. During their visit, the two leaders spoke at length about the shared military history between the two countries. Mr. Trump even gifted the prime minister with a model of a battleship.
“In the First World War, our bond was sealed in blood,” Mr. Trump said in his welcome speech.
“We see the world through the same lens,” Mr. Morrison agreed.
Later, at a state dinner held in the Rose Garden that Mr. Trump decided to open to reporters, the two men again reiterated the ties between them while seeming all but unaware of the larger conflicts in the world.
Mr. Trump, dressed in a tuxedo, basked in the attention as he walked through the tables, shaking hands and patting backs. Mr. Morrison looked up at the president and beamed. As a military orchestra played Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.,” a Trump supporter anthem, Palm Beach socialites mingled with Supreme Court justices and Fox News personalities.
And Mr. Giuliani, the president’s lawyer, literally laughed off the escalating situation involving Ukraine as he showed up at the White House, and strolled into the Rose Garden with a date on his arm.