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November 26, 2022
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The Wedding Is at the White House, but the Details Are Top Secret

The Wedding Is at the White House, but the Details Are Top Secret

Naomi Biden, the president’s eldest grandchild, was married on the South Lawn on Saturday morning. The ceremony was to be followed by a luncheon and a black-tie evening reception.

Guests gathering on the South Lawn of the White House for the wedding of Naomi Biden to Peter Neal on Saturday.Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The president and first lady’s names were on the wedding invitations. The vendors all signed nondisclosure agreements. And the bride and groom didn’t have far to travel to their venue, because they live at the White House.

Naomi Biden, the eldest grandchild of President Biden, and Peter Neal were married in a private ceremony on the South Lawn on Saturday morning. It was the quintessential Biden affair: planned by the close-knit family and a handful of trusted aides, and treated like a state secret, despite a public backdrop.

The White House kept details of the event minimal, but a person familiar with the planning said that a luncheon for the family and wedding party would be held in the White House immediately after the South Lawn ceremony. A black-tie evening reception with dessert and dancing was to follow.

Of the seven Biden grandchildren, Ms. Biden, 28, is a particularly influential presence in Mr. Biden’s life. It was she who called a family meeting to urge her grandfather to run for the presidency in 2019. And she will be involved in the family discussions when Mr. Biden, who turns 80 a day after the wedding, mulls a second run.

A Washington attorney with an interest in politics, Ms. Biden has been a frequent presence at White House events, twirling in a feather-fringed dress on the South Lawn when Elton John played there in September, and sitting in the audience at a Cinco de Mayo celebration in May. She is the daughter of Hunter Biden, the president’s son, and Kathleen Buhle, who divorced in 2017.

Ms. Biden, as the president often says, was named for his firstborn daughter, who died in a car crash along with Mr. Biden’s first wife, Neilia, in 1972.

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Ms. Biden and her grandfather in 2008, when he was a senator. Ms. Biden called a family meeting in 2019 to urge Mr. Biden to run for the presidency.Credit…Phil Sandlin/Associated Press

In April, Mr. Biden introduced himself as “Naomi Biden’s grandfather” at a White House event celebrating the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. In October, Ms. Biden stood beside her grandparents in a pink wig — her grandmother’s was purple — and handed out Halloween candy to trick-or-treaters.

So it surprised few who know the family that the president and first lady were active in the wedding planning process, according to people familiar with the event. Dr. Biden told the “Today” show in September that she had been in most of the planning meetings and had watched her granddaughter “blossom,” adding, “Really, there’s just such joy about it, and I cannot wait.”

And the president, his aides say, is a doting grandfather. He slips his grandchildren $20 bills and makes it a rule to answer the phone whenever they call. Ms. Biden published a compilation of voice mail messages he left her during the presidential campaign — “Just called to tell you I love you,” he said in several.

“They expand his mind and how he thinks about things in a way that I don’t think anybody else that I’ve seen does,” Jen Psaki, Mr. Biden’s former press secretary, said about the president’s relationship with his grandchildren. “They’re his connection, in some ways, to the outside world.”

Wedding planning meetings were kept to a close group, including the first couple and Hunter Biden; Anthony Bernal, Dr. Biden’s senior adviser; and Elizabeth Alexander, her communications director. But it was the first couple whose names were listed on the wedding invitation.

White House advisers have said very little on the record about the wedding, except to relay that the Biden family will handle all costs related to the event.

Ms. Biden and Mr. Neal live at the White House, according to two people familiar with their situation.

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Mr. Neal playing with Commander, one of Mr. Biden’s dogs, at the White House.Credit…Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press

“Consistent with other private events hosted by the first family and following the traditions of previous White House wedding festivities in prior administrations, the Biden family will be paying for the wedding activities that occur at the White House,” Ms. Alexander wrote in an email.

Along the way to matrimony, Mr. Neal, 25, and Ms. Biden have posted the occasional update to Instagram. The couple was feted with a floral-themed shower in August, and they traveled to Wyoming, where Mr. Neal grew up, for festivities with friends later in the summer. Mr. Neal, 25, is from Jackson Hole, Wyo., and is the son of Drs. Mary C. Neal and William C. Neal of Jackson Hole. On Thursday, Mr. Neal posted a photo of the pair standing under a white arch at a marriage license bureau in Washington.

White House weddings are rare. There have only been 18 of them, with couples ranging from President Grover Cleveland and Frances Folsom, who wed in the Blue Room in June of 1886, to Pete Souza, President Obama’s White House photographer, and Patti Lease, who were married in the Rose Garden in 2013, in a small affair studded with blue flowers. (The couple had been together for two decades and saw no need to marry until the president’s constant badgering won out.) Ms. Biden is the first grandchild of a president to marry there.

It is generally up to the couple to share as much or as little as they want about their nuptials, but the curiosity factor is always high.

“The White House as a home is always a topic of great interest to the public,” said Anita McBride, who was chief of staff to Laura Bush when she was first lady. “A first family wedding is an especially joyous, and rare occasion, that adds a special footnote in the fascinating stories throughout our history of life in the White House.”

Tricia Nixon’s 1971 wedding to Edward F. Cox in the Rose Garden helped create an expectation that modern White House events should be open to the public. That wedding came complete with a six-tier wedding cake and some 700 credentialed journalists covering the event.

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Tricia Nixon and Edward C. Fox’s wedding in the Rose Garden in 1971. The couple leaned into the idea that their wedding was a part of American history.Credit…Associated Press

The couple leaned into the idea that their wedding was a part of American history: Among their guests were several women who had married at the White House, including the 98-year-old Alice Roosevelt Longworth, who married there in 1906, and both daughters of former President Lyndon B. Johnson, Lynda and Luci Johnson.

But Ms. Biden, who grew up staying with her grandparents at the vice president’s residence — where they installed bunk beds for their grandchildren — did not take this approach. Instead, she and Mr. Neal decided to plan the wedding “as a private celebration for their friends and family,” said a person familiar with their wishes.

With privacy a primary concern, the Bidens hired Bryan Rafanelli, the wedding planner responsible for high-profile, political-world events including Chelsea Clinton’s wedding in 2010, to carry out the proceedings. He has been known to require confidentiality agreements with his vendors, which the White House also requires.

Ms. Biden and Mr. Neal, who did not respond to a request for comment, were set up on a date by a mutual friend in New York City in 2018, according to the White House. Mr. Neal proposed on Sept. 4, 2021. Ms. Biden is an associate at the high-powered law firm Arnold & Porter. Mr. Neal graduated from law school at the University of Pennsylvania this year. He is an associate at Georgetown Law’s Center on National Security.

Only one person in the Biden family couldn’t resist breaking family protocol to talk about the wedding.

Earlier in the week, Mr. Biden was on a swing through Egypt, Cambodia and Indonesia, working to rally American allies against the Russian invasion of Ukraine and holding a high-stakes summit with President Xi Jinping of China.

But his granddaughter was on his mind at a mangrove farm in Bali, when a man approached him to mention that they’d met before, at an event Mr. Biden had attended with Ms. Biden.

“That granddaughter’s getting married in four days,” the president said proudly, shortly before he departed for Washington.

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