President Joe Biden, wearing a green tie and shamrocks in his pocket, reveled in all that is Irish when he spoke at a St. Patrick’s Day luncheon at the Capitol on Friday.
Biden, who is proud of his Gaelic ancestry, joked: ‘I’m the only Irishman you’ve ever met though that’s never had a drink. I’m really not Irish.’
The president has said that he’s been a lifelong teetotaler because one of his favorite uncles, whom he lived with growing up, was a heavy drinker. ‘There are enough alcoholics in my family,’ he has said of his decision. Neither he nor former President Donald Trump are drinkers.
Biden was hosting Irish leader Leo Varadkar at the White House for the holiday, which is known for celebrating with corned beef and Guinness.
But the president wasn’t talking about the visit or any other matters when asked about it. He declined to answer American reporters’ questions in the Oval Office on Friday, despite his press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre claimed he would answer questions.
President Joe Biden wasn’t taking questions from the press when he met with Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in the Oval Office
Traditionally, the president and a visiting foreign leader hold a press conference where each leader calls on two reporters from their respective country’s press corps.
Biden’s last meeting with another world leader at the White House was in December, when Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited.
Varadkar did take questions from reporters – outside the West Wing, on the driveway, before he left for the Capitol to join Biden at the luncheon. European Union President Ursula von der Leyen also took reporters’ questions in the rain after her meeting with Biden.
Jean-Pierre argued Biden does take questions and that the press could ask them during Friday’s Oval Office event.
‘You’re going to have an opportunity, or your colleagues will have an opportunity to ask questions during the pool spray of the Oval,’ Jean-Pierre said on Thursday, referring to the time reporters are brought in at the top of Biden’s meetings.
‘So that is an opportunity to be able to pose a question to the President or the head of state that is visiting the White House on that day,’ she noted.
But reporters pushed back against her. ‘We get yelled at during those,’ one told her. ‘The press is normally shouted down when we’re in the Oval Office,’ another said.
After Biden and Varadkar made their opening statements, White House staff ushered reporters to the door before they could get any questions in, yelling ‘thank you press’ over any attempts by the press to speak.
The only question Biden answered was from an Irish reporter as the press was being hustled out of the Oval Office, saying ‘soon’ when asked when he was visiting Ireland.
Jean-Pierre argued a two-and-two session is a joint decision by the White House and the visiting country.
‘Look, the two-plus-two is something that is done in coordination with the country that is visiting. That is not something that is unilaterally decided. That is something that is in discussion with the other country.’
‘There is an opportunity where press will be in the room with the two leaders. I cannot speak to who’s going to take questions or who’s not going to take questions,’ she noted.
A United States Secret Service agent directs members of the media to leave the Oval Office as Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar meets President Joe Biden on St. Patrick’s Day in the Oval Office
President Joe Biden, Speaker Kevin McCarthy, and Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at lunch in the Capitol building
President Joe Biden, during a St. Patrick’s Day lunch at the Capitol, joked: ‘I’m the only Irishman you’ve ever met though that’s never had a drink. I’m really not Irish’
Biden and Varadkar, after their meeting, went to the Capitol for a luncheon hosted by Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a Republican.
The president noted that he and McCarthy, despite their political differences, had their Irish roots in common.
Biden often speaks of his Irish ancestors and, in most of his speeches, quotes an Irish poet.
His mother’s family – the Finnegans – were Irish-American immigrants. Biden visited his family’s pub, Lily Finnegan’s, in Carlingford, County Louth, when he visited Ireland in 2016.
His great-great grandfather Patrick Blewitt was born in Ballina, Co Mayo, in 1832. Patrick left Ireland in the autumn of 1850 to settle in America, according to the Irish Times.
‘It’s good to have you back in the Oval Office, Taoiseach. It’s a big day in my grandparents’ household, our household, big day here,’ Biden said.
Varadkar said the entire Irish Republic was looking forward to seeing Biden. The president is expected to travel there next month to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday accord.
‘I promise you that we’re going to roll out the red carpet and it’s going to be visit like no other. Everyone’s excited about already,’ the taoiseach said.
The White House went green for the occasion. The water in the fountain on the North Lawn was dyed green, shamrocks decorated the Oval Office and the president sported a green tie with white dots.
Varadkar’s visit comes after Biden said he plans to visit both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland next month, which marks the 25th anniversary of the U.S.-brokered Good Friday accord.
The agreement helped end sectarian violence that had raged for three decades over whether Northern Ireland should unify with Ireland or remain part of the United Kingdom.
‘I want to acknowledge the central role which the US has played in the peace process on our island, driving it forward and critical points,’ Varadkar said Friday morning during his meeting with Harris.
Ireland’s Prime Minister Leo Varadkar (left) and European Union President Ursula von der Leyen (right) took questions outside the White House after their meetings with Biden on St. Patrick’s Day.
The fountain on the North Lawn of the White House is dyed green for St. Patrick’s Day as the Beast carries President Joe Biden and Ireland’s Prime Minister Leo Varadkar to the Capitol
Ahead of his meeting with Biden, Varadkar, known as the taoiseach, and his partner Matthew Barrett visited the Naval Observatory for breakfast with Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff. ‘Eggs St. Patrick’ were on the menu. It’s an Irish twist on Eggs Benedict.
Harris wore a green pants suit for the occasion. The three men had shamrocks in the breast pockets of their suit jackets.
She acknowledged Biden’s love of all things Irish and noted: ‘He is quite exuberant in that joy and I now have caught the bug.’
Later on Friday, the boyband One Direction and Irish singer Niall Horan will perform for leaders and invited guests at the White House.
Horan was one of the five members of One Direction, the popular 2010 English-Irish boy band, which sold more than 70 million records globally. The band officially split in January 2016.
Last year, on St. Patrick’s Day, then-prime minister Micheál Martin tested positive for COVID, leading to him meeting with Biden virtually instead. And, in 2021, Martin and Biden celebrated virtually because of the pandemic.
Varadkar, who served as Taoiseach from 2017 to 2020, returned to the role in December. He was last in Washington for St. Patrick’s Day when Donald Trump was president.
Vice President Kamala Harris toasts as she hosts a St. Patrick’s Day Breakfast with Ireland’s Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, seated left
The holiday is becoming a tradition to celebrate at the White House. About 31.5 million U.S. residents claim Irish heritage, according to the Census bureau, second only to German.
The president has long made it clear he wanted to visit Ireland as president, but Northern Ireland’s trade status was causing a diplomatic headache when it came to a presidential visit.
But that obstacle was cleared when Britain and the European Union agreed the Windsor Framework, paving the way for trade to make its way across the Ireland/Northern Ireland border.
Former One Direction member, Irish singer Niall Horan, will perform Friday at a St. Patrick’s Day reception at the White House
Under the Northern Ireland Protocol, Northern Ireland, a part of the United Kingdom, essentially stayed in the European Union market, along with its neighbor the Republic of Ireland, an independent country, when Britain voted for to exit the E.U.
The Windsor Framework will keep goods moving without upending the Good Friday Agreement.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak personally invited Biden to come, when he met with him in San Diego on Monday during an aukus event.
‘I know it’s something very special and personal to you. We’d love to have you,’ the prime minister told the American president.
‘Twenty five years. It seems like yesterday. Like yesterday,’ Biden mused about Sunak’s invite. ‘Thank you,’ he added.
Biden last visited Ireland in an official capacity in 2016 as vice president. That visit included stops in Dublin, Mayo, and Louth — the capital plus the two counties of his ancestors.