Behind the scenes of Macron’s White House marathon

From our special correspondent in Washington DC,

Great days often start with the early morning hours. The most important and densest day of Emmanuel Macron’s state visit to the United States started at dawn for the followers, in order to pass the security checks of the White House. Story and anecdotes over a cold day “but warm in our hearts”, to use Joe Biden’s formula.

8 a.m.: Disneyland atmosphere

Big sun, blue sky on the horizon. The images will be beautiful, that’s for sure, for the welcoming ceremony of Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron. Let’s not hide behind our little finger: to meet at the White House, more precisely on the south lawn, outside, “it does something”, as recognized by a colleague who has seen others. There is something statistically abnormal in finding yourself in such a well-known and inaccessible place.

The lawn is very green, the White House very white. The public present has the answer, the soldiers do not miss a movement, the announcer has the voice castling and grave as it should be. It’s almost too perfect. On top of that, the bombastic music of the military band and the huge Christmas wreath with a big cartoonish red bow give the bizarre feeling of being in a kind of Disneyland. Even the two protagonists put their all into it, with lots of hugs and thumbs up.

10 a.m.: Brainstorming

Emmanuel Macron and Joe Biden spend a long time in bilateral talks then in “extended bilateral”. Understand: with ministers. Almost two hours, much longer than expected. Meanwhile, reporters have taken refuge in the famous White House press room. Today, you have to share this small space with French people who take up space. Who work there and also picnic there. The French press is also using this time to decide on a battle plan for the obviously delayed press conference.

Only two French journalists and two Americans will be able to ask questions. This is little. On the visitors’ side, journalists from France Info and RTL were chosen by lot. Two men, which will make them wince – not without reason – for some. But the rest will be collective: an improvised scrum brainstorms on the right questions to ask. Of course a question about theInflation reduction act (IRA), the hottest file, of which Emmanuel Macron and Europe dispute the consequences on the economy of the Old Continent.

The debate stumbles on the more diplomatic question: Ukraine of course? “Or why not China, we should ask Biden if he finds France’s position clear, because it is not. The colleague will not be able to impose his question. So Ukraine. Those who want a question on the Crimea have a hard time: “They will still say that it’s up to Zelensky to decide, we know the answer! » ; “No, but we can’t always think like that, at some point, you need simple questions!” It will ultimately be “Is it realistic to make the opening of negotiations conditional on Crimea returning to Ukrainian hands?” »

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2 p.m.: Like at a wedding

Answer ? In general terms, it is up to Volodymyr Zelensky to decide. Like what, even collectively, we are never smarter than someone who has decided not to answer you anyway. Overall, Emmanuel Macron and Joe Biden still insist on their personal and political closeness, in a room where there are more Christmas trees (five!) than heads of state (we only counted two).

This gilded, lavishly decorated room in the main building of the White House looks almost like a wedding hall. With many guests separated by a central aisle. The metaphor continues to French journalists on one side and Americans on the other, just to have the right headphones for simultaneous translation. And as sometimes at a wedding, there is one family more enthusiastic than the other: an American journalist takes advantage of the microphone to ask Joe Biden a question of domestic politics. Not surprising, and even quite usual here. But maybe not very elegant.

4 p.m.: Not capital

About 75 journalists, JRI photographers and technicians follow the French delegation to Washington. To avoid the rush, not everyone can go everywhere all the time. So we draw lots (again) for “pools”. The biggest prizes: the passage in the oval office or the toast of the state dinner. As much to tell you right away that in this game, 20 minutes did not have a lucky hand and pulled the passage to the Capitol of Emmanuel Macron to meet the leaders of Congress. Why not ? See you at the end of the afternoon at the American Parliament.

The “sequence” has its antechamber, rather grandiose this time: the immense and impressive dome of the Capitol. All this to finally arrive in front of a desk in a tiny hallway. With a small agreed speech from Emmanuel Macron and (only) Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic President of the House of Representatives. Just the president has a word for the one who will soon leave her post. The member for San Francisco seems moved. That’s all.

20 hours : Suit up!

We still wonder how the wooden platform that supported the journalists to witness the arrival of the presidential couples at the state dinner held up. For once, we are not expecting much Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron (late), because the French press is even further behind.

As expected, the Bidens and Macrons appear in elegant evening wear. Vuitton, as always, for Brigitte Macron. Oscar de la Renta for Jill Biden. The 300 guests – Anna Wintour, Stephen Colbert, Tim Cook or Julia Louis-Dreyfus, in particular – are obviously on their 31st. And since it is the evening of the State dinner, everyone must be in tune. The interns who escort the journalists – who of course won’t taste the lobster on the menu any more than we do – are also in their evening dresses. A part of the American dream.

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