Aug. 19 (UPI) -- U.S. President Donald Trump and his wife Melania will not attend as planned the upcoming Kennedy Center Honors.
"The President and First Lady have decided not to participate in this year's activities to allow the honorees to celebrate without any political distraction," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement to Variety Saturday. "First Lady Melania Trump, along with her husband President Donald J. Trump, extend their sincerest congratulations and well wishes to all of this year's award recipients for their many accomplishments."
"The Kennedy Center respects the decision made today by the office of the President of the United States. In choosing not to participate in this year's Honors activities, the Administration has graciously signaled its respect for the Kennedy Center and ensures the Honors gala remains a deservingly special moment for the Honorees," Kennedy Center Chairman David M. Rubenstein and President Deborah F. Rutter said in their own joint statement. "We are grateful for this gesture."
Carmen de Lavallade, Gloria Estefan, LL Cool J, Norman Lear and Lionel Richie were to be recognized Dec. 3 at a gala show at the Kennedy Center, and reception and dinner at the White House. The Trumps had been confirmed to attend all of the events.
Lear, a renowned television producer, announced earlier this month he would go to the ceremony, but not the White House because he does not support the president.
"I could never turn my back on the @kencen. It represents the Arts and Humanities which mean everything to me," Lear tweeted. "Of course, I'm accepting the honors. What I'm not accepting is the @WhiteHouse reception with @realDonaldTrump."
Trump said counter-protesters -- as well as members of the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and other hate groups that descended on Charlottesville for a "Unite the Right" rally -- contributed to the violence that erupted, leading to the death of a counter-protester, allegedly at the hands of a rally attendee.
"The false equivalencies you push cannot stand," the arts advisory committee members wrote. "We cannot sit idly by, the way that your West Wing advisors have, without speaking out against your words and actions.".