President Trump and first lady Melania Trump welcome Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his wife, Jenny Morrison, during an arrival ceremony Friday on the South Lawn of the White House. Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — A glittering crowd of American and Australian luminaries gathered under the stars in the White House Rose Garden on Friday night, resolutely “celebrating” even as serious matters of national security and presidential politics combined to cast a cloud over President Trump.

Not long before the president and first lady Melania Trump stepped out of the White House front door and welcomed Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his wife, Jenny, Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced the deployment of additional U.S. troops to the Persian Gulf region in response to a recent attack on the Saudi oil industry. At the same time, a controversy intensified over a conversation Trump had with Ukraine’s new president.

Some guests attending just the second state dinner of the Trump administration sought to keep the conversation on the lighter side.

“I’m looking forward to celebrating tonight,” Republican Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina said when he was asked about the day’s breaking news.

“Ha ha ha,” came the response from Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, who tipped his head back and laughed when he was asked about the bewildering answers he gave about Trump’s conversation with the Ukrainian leader during a nationally televised interview Thursday. A person familiar with the matter said the Republican president urged his Eastern European counterpart during a summertime telephone conversation to investigate the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, who is among leading Democrats vying for the chance to deny Trump a second term in the November 2020 presidential election.

Music wafted across the South Lawn just below an illuminated White House as guests descended the outside staircases to join the garden party.

Guests, including several Cabinet secretaries, members of Congress, White House staff and an Australian delegation that included native son and pro golfer Greg Norman, were seated at a mix of round and rectangular tables draped in alternating yellow and green tablecloths in tribute to Australia’s national colors and dined on sunchoke ravioli, Dover sole and apple tart a la mode. Temporary flooring was laid over the grass.

Dinner centerpieces were made using more than 2,500 yellow California roses and Australia’s national flower, the golden wattle, while the garden itself was decorated with white and yellow roses. Musical groups from the U.S. military provided entertainment.

The first lady wore an aqua silk chiffon gown by J. Mendel with inserted pleats and bias cut waves, the White House said. Morrison’s wife wore a midnight blue sequined halter-style gown, exposing her shoulders once she was inside the White House.

“It’s so beautiful and it will be so different,” Trump said earlier Friday about his first state dinner in more than a year, noting that he had watched a rehearsal the night before. “And we look up to the skies and we’re just going to hope that it’s not going to rain. And if it is, that’s OK, too, because that will work out also.”

Morrison, who has been in office for a little over a year, thanked Trump for the “tremendous honor.”

At an afternoon news conference in the grand East Room, Trump said he and the prime minister “talked about everything you can talk about,” including military issues and trade. Morrison said he and the president share a “passion for jobs” and he commended Trump for his record on job creation.

On a big day for diplomacy, Morrison and his wife also worked in a State Department luncheon hosted by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Australia was last a recipient of a U.S. state visit in 2006, when President George W. Bush feted Prime Minister John Howard.

When it comes to state dinners, Trump seems to prefer being on the receiving end.

He’s been the honored guest on state visits to Japan and Britain this year alone, in addition to other such visits in his first two years in office, including to Beijing on what China billed as a “state visit, plus.”

Trump’s first state visitor was French President Emmanuel Macron last year.

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