President Joe Biden, wearing a green tie and shamrocks in his pocket, was enjoying all things Irish as he spoke at a St. Patrick’s Day luncheon at the Capitol on Friday.
Biden, who is proud of his Gaelic heritage, joked: “I’m the only Irishman you’ve ever met, but he’s never had a drink. I’m really not Irish.’
The president has said he has been a lifelong teetotaler because one of his favorite uncles, who he grew up with, was a heavy drinker. “There are plenty of alcoholics in my family,” he said of his decision. Neither he nor former President Donald Trump are drinkers.
Biden hosted Irish leader Leo Varadkar at the White House for the holiday, who is known for celebrating with corned beef and Guinness.
But the president did not mention the visit or anything else when asked. He declined to answer questions from US reporters in the Oval Office on Friday, despite his press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, saying he would.
President Joe Biden did not answer press questions as he met Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in the Oval Office
Jean-Pierre was asked at her press conference on Thursday why Biden did not hold a press conference with Varadkar. Traditionally, the president and a visiting foreign leader hold what is called a two-and-two, a press conference where each calls two reporters from their country’s press corps.
Biden’s last two-and-two in the White House was in December, when Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited.
Varadkar did answer questions from reporters — outside the West Wing, in the driveway, before leaving for the Capitol to join Biden at lunch. European Union President Ursula von der Leyen also took questions from reporters outside the White House after her meeting with Biden, answering them in the dark and rain.
Jean-Pierre argued that Biden does answer questions and the press could ask them at Friday’s Oval Office event.
“You get a chance, or your colleagues get a chance to ask questions during the Oval’s pool spray,” Jean-Pierre said Thursday, referring to the time reporters top Biden’s meetings.
“So that’s an opportunity to be able to ask a question of the president or head of state visiting the White House on that day,” she noted.
But reporters pushed back against her. “They yell at us,” said one of them. “Normally the press gets yelled down when we’re in the Oval Office,” said another.
After Biden and Varadkar made their opening statements, White House staff led reporters to the door before they could ask questions, shouting “thank you press” for any attempts by the press to speak.
The only question Biden answered was from an Irish reporter as the press left the Oval, saying “soon” when asked when he visited Ireland.
Jean-Pierre argued that a two-and-two is a joint decision between the White House and the visiting country.
‘Look, you do those two plus two in coordination with the country that is visiting. That is not something that is decided unilaterally. That is something that is discussed with the other country.’
There is a chance the press will be in the room with the two leaders. I can’t speak to who’s going to answer questions or who’s not going to answer questions,’ she remarked.
A US Secret Service agent directs members of the media to leave the Oval Office as Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar meets with President Joe Biden on St. Patrick’s Day in the Oval Office
President Joe Biden, Chairman Kevin McCarthy and Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar during lunch at the Capitol
President Joe Biden joked at a St. Patrick’s Day luncheon at the Capitol, “I’m the only Irishman you’ve ever met, but he’s never had a drink.” I’m really not Irish’
After their meeting, Biden and Varadkar headed to the Capitol for a luncheon hosted by Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a Republican.
The president noted that despite their political differences, he and McCarthy shared their Irish roots.
Biden often speaks of his Irish ancestors and quotes an Irish poet in most of his speeches.
His mother’s family – the Finnegans – were Irish-American immigrants. Biden frequented his family’s pub, Lily Finnegan’s, in Carlingford, County Louth, when he visited Ireland in 2016.
His great-great-grandfather was born in Ireland and emigrated to America.
“It’s good to have you back in the Oval Office, Taoiseach. It’s a big day in my grandparents’ household, our household, a big day here,” Biden said.
Varadkar said the entire Republic of Ireland is looking out for Biden. The president is expected to travel there next month to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.
“I promise we’re going to roll out the red carpet and it’s going to be a visit like no other. Everyone is already excited about it,” the taoiseach said.
The White House went green for the occasion. The water in the fountain on the North Lawn was painted green, shamrocks adorned the Oval Office, and the president wore a green tie with white polka dots.
Varadkar’s visit comes after Biden said he plans to visit both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland next month, marking the 25th anniversary of the US-brokered Good Friday Agreement.
The agreement helped end the sectarian violence that has raged for three decades over whether Northern Ireland should unite with Ireland or remain part of the United Kingdom.
“I want to recognize the central role the US has played in the peace process on our island, moving it forward and critical points,” Varadkar said Friday morning during his meeting with Harris.
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar (left) and European Union President Ursula von der Leyen (right) answered questions outside the White House after their meetings with Biden
The fountain on the North Lawn of the White House is painted green for St. Patrick’s Day as the Beast carries President Joe Biden and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar to the Capitol
Prior to his meeting with Biden, Varadkar, known as the taoiseach, and his partner Matthew Barrett visited the Naval Observatory for breakfast with Harris and Second Lord Doug Emhoff. The menu said ‘Eggs St. Patrick’. It’s an Irish twist on Eggs Benedict.
Harris wore a green pantsuit for the occasion. The three men had cloverleaf in the breast pockets of their suit jackets.
Acknowledging Biden’s love of all things Irish, she noted, “He’s pretty exuberant in that joy and I’ve got the bug now.”
Later on Friday, the boy band One Direction and Irish singer Niall Horan will perform for leaders and guests at the White House.
Horan was one of five members of One Direction, the popular Anglo-Irish boy band from 2010, which sold more than 70 million records worldwide. The band officially broke up in January 2016.
Last year, on St. Patrick’s Day, then-Prime Minister Micheál Martin tested positive for COVID, which led to him meeting Biden virtually. 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 Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, seated left
The holiday will become a tradition to celebrate at the White House. According to the Census Bureau, approximately 31.5 million U.S. residents claim Irish ancestry, second only to German.
The president has long made it clear that he wanted to visit Ireland as president, but Northern Ireland’s trading status caused diplomatic headaches when it came to a presidential visit.
But that obstacle was removed when Britain and the European Union agreed on the Windsor Framework, which opened the way for trade across the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Former One Direction member Irish singer Niall Horan performs at a St. Patrick’s Day reception at the White House on Friday
Under the Northern Ireland Protocol, Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom, essentially remained in the European Union market, along with its neighbor the Republic of Ireland, an independent country when Britain voted to leave the EU to leave
The Windsor Framework will keep goods moving without upsetting the Good Friday Agreement.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak personally invited Biden to come when he met him in San Diego on Monday at an aukus event.
“I know it’s something very special and personal to you. We would like to have you,” the prime minister told the US president.
‘Twenty-five years. Seems like yesterday. Like yesterday,” Biden mused about Sunak’s invitation. “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 city plus the two counties of his ancestors.