No One Turns Down Dinner at the White House

  • Capital Connections ®
  • |
  • January 15, 1999

by Karen Feld

No One Turns Down Dinner at the White House, Not Even Impeachment Jurors

Only days before the U.S. Senate heard opening arguments for “the trial of the century,” President Bill Clinton invited seven of his jurors to dinner. None of the senators thought it the least bit uncomfortable to dine at the White House in the midst of an impeachment trial. “Perhaps a little unusual, but not awkward,” explained North Dakota Democrat Byron Dorgan, who embraced the occasion to welcome a head of state. The occasion was the state dinner for Carlos Menem, the Argentine president. California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, who has been talked about as Al Gore’s potential running mate in 2000 and had called for Mr. Clinton to postpone his Jan. 19 state of the union address, insisted: “My Senate duties don’t stop.” Indiana Republican Richard Lugar, said “I’m serving the country this evening as is the president.”

So much for Washington spin; in reality, no one turns down a good party, especially when it’s at the White House and when actor and chairman of the U.S. Tango Academy, Robert Duvall, performs. Mr. Duvall, reflecting on his tango exhibition, said: “This wasn’t a tough audience, we were tough on ourselves.” Mr. Menem tangoed with Madeleine Albright, U.S. secretary of state, who gave him a big kiss as they left the dance floor. Even Mr. Clinton joined in but was careful not to step on the toes of his dance partner, the Argentine foreign minister’s wife.

Ever wonder what to talk to the president about over dinner? Mr. Duvall discussed black preachers, churches, and Taylor Branch’s book party. Another tablemate, Helen Brownstein of Denver, talked with the president about his love of flowers, music, and Argentina. She was thrilled when he passed up his dessert of coconut snowballs and offered it to her.

Meanwhile, Mr. Clinton, whose presidency is certain to survive the Senate trial, is more concerned about spinning history so his legacy isn’t tarnished. His friend, former Democratic House Whip Tony Coelho, said at the dinner, “it’s all about numbers, and the Senate, unlike the House, doesn’t concern itself with polls.” Speaking of polls, Hillary Clinton, who has made the transformation from Lady Macbeth to a glamorous and popular First Lady, is scoring high as a contender in the race for the next Senator from New York? Stranger things have happened. Don’t rule it out.

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