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Obama brings taste of Hawaii to White House

WASHINGTON - Straw huts, hula dancers and kids playing withhula hoops were all on display Thursday evening in the WhiteHouse's backyard -- not the typical congressional picnic.

President Barack Obama wanted it this way for the annual picnicfor members of Congress and their families.

"I just want to say to all the members of Congress, you've beenworking hard. I wish I could give you all trips to Hawaii," Obamasaid in his brief remarks. "But I figured since, given our budgetcrunch we can't do that, that we'd at least bring Hawaii to you."

The Obama White House turned its first congressional picnic intoa Hawaiian luau, in celebration of the president's home state.Tents were set up on the South Lawn, tiki torches lined theperimeter, and potted palm trees were brought in. More than 2,000guests, many wearing leis and sipping drinks, were scattered on theSouth Lawn under the blue sky.

All wearing leis, the president, first lady Michelle Obama, andtheir daughters 10-year-old Malia and 8-year-old Sasha along withVice President Joe Biden walked from the White House to meet thecrowd. Before Obama shouted an "aloha" to guests, he and Sashacould be seen boogying to the music.

On the menu were traditional luau foods like kalua pig and lomilomi salmon prepared by famed Hawaii chef Alan Wong.

Wong said he's been discussing the menu with the White House formore than a month. In addition to luau fare, he was flavoring themenu with some picnic favorites-- but with a twist, like wasabipotato salad.

Wong first met Obama several years ago, when the then-senatorate at one of his Hawaii restaurants. Wong said the president isshowing his guests great respect by throwing a luau.

"To do a luau in Hawaii is a special occasion," Wong said."You throw a luau for your child's first birthday, or you throw aluau for a wedding."

Hawaii has seen its profile raised in Washington since itsnative son moved into the White House. In January, the 50th stateheld its first state inaugural ball -- also a luau -- and themarching band from the president's high school, the Punahou Schoolin Honolulu, performed in the inaugural parade.

In addition to a Hawaiian meal, the White House said traditionalisland entertainment was being offered, including a performance byTihati, a group featuring members from each of the Hawaiianislands.

Darlene Morikawa, of the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau,said they offered a blend of Polynesian and traditional huladancing.

Morikawa said she wouldn't be surprised to see the president getinto the act. "He seems to be a good sport," Morikawa said.

Also proving to be good sports? White House press secretaryRobert Gibbs, who took his turn in the dunk tank.

Many members of Congress and other top figures sent their RSVPsfor the luau, including Democratic Sens. Daniel Inouye and DanielAkaka of Hawaii; Roberta McCain, the mother of the 2008 Republicanpresidential candidate; House Minority Leader John Boehner, R- Ohio;and Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev.

"I hope everybody's got their Hawaiian shirts and their muumuusfor our luau tonight," Obama told lawmakers gathered at the WhiteHouse Thursday for a meeting on immigration.

Before the luau, the Obamas put some members of Congress to workin their ongoing effort to promote community service. Fiverepresentatives joined the Obamas at Fort McNair, where theyassembled 15,000 backpacks for children of military families.

The event was part of the president's ongoing effort to promotecommunity service. He launched a new service initiative, "UnitedWe Serve," aimed at getting people to tackle problems in the areasof education, health, energy and the environment and communityrenewal.

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