President Obama didn't just roll out the red carpet for Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi on Tuesday. He unfurled it with a flourish.
It's the last state dinner of the Obama presidency, and the Obamas seem intent on pulling out all the stops. Upon Mr. Renzi's arrival, Obama and wife Michelle welcomed the prime minister and his wife, Agnese Landini, to the White House with trumpets blaring on the South Lawn. Celebrated Italian-American chef Mario Batali will cater tonight's dinner. Dinner entertainment will be offered by Gwen Stefani, also Italian-American.
Obama's rhetoric was also more than polite. Some even accused the president of gushing. "Look at him," Obama said of Renzi, speaking at a joint news conference in the Rose Garden. "He's young, handsome. He's put forth a vision of progress that's not rooted in people's fears, but rather in their hopes."
Both Renzi and Obama were keen to affirm the importance of the relationship between their countries before Obama leaves the White House for good, with both men expressing approval of their counterpart’s policies during meetings on Tuesday.
"I think Matteo embodies a new generation of leadership, not just for Italy but also for Europe," said Obama.
As the United States faces a hotly contested presidential election and Italy continues to face a worsening European financial and refugee crisis, both men discussed their hopes for the future.
Renzi pointed to Obama’s leadership during the United States’ own financial crisis and the divisive presidential election, saying, “I think there are a lot of people who think politics is only about screaming and fighting each other, creating hate and division. You are different, Mr. President. We are different.”
In a thinly veiled reference to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s political views, Renzi told Obama that he believes the future of both Italy and the United States lies in emphasizing principles of liberty and growth.
“My personal opinion is that the name of future has to be freedom. The name of the future has to be education not intolerance, sustainability not distraction, trust not hate, bridge[s] not walls. The name of the future has to be growth not austerity,” Renzi said. “In the time of fear, we have to give answer with the audacity of hope, not only in the United States.”
Italians are less than two months away from a vote on constitutional changes proposed by Renzi that could dampen the power of the Italian senate. While many, including the American ambassador to Italy, think that the constitutional changes could be a good thing for Italy’s democracy, others say that they could open the door to a Euroskeptic movement à la Brexit. Renzi, on the contrary, supports a strongly integrated Europe.
If Renzi’s proposed constitutional changes don’t go through, the prime minister could be out of a job, an outcome that Obama has said he considers less than ideal.
Whichever way the election goes, however, the Obama administration has stressed that Italy remains a key partner in the fight against the Islamic State.
Speaking in the Rose Garden, Obama said that few of America's allies are as reliable as Italy, ABC News reported.
"In good times and in bad, we count on each other," Obama said.