Who isn't having a ball - an inaugural ball, that is - as George W. Bush prepares to begin his second term as president?
Like the much-ballyhooed Black Tie & Boots Inaugural Ball, sponsored by the Texas State Society. The Marriott Wardman Park Hotel is site of this Jan .19 barn dance (pre-scalper ticket prices were running as high as $1,495).
Then there is the South Carolina Inaugural Ball at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History; the George Washington University Inaugural Ball at the Omni Shoreham; the red-white-and-blue Heritage Inaugural Ball; and the Lawyers Inaugural Ball (this gathering of legal minds surprisingly affordable at $495 per ticket).
Atop the Washington Wizards basketball court at MCI Center will be the Presidential Inaugural Gala (courtside seats run $1,295); the Hyatt Regency is hosting a ball for New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania residents; and inaugural-ball goers from countless other states will fill the D.C. Armory, Washington Convention Center, Washington Hilton, Ronald Reagan Building and the National Building Museum.
Don't have ball tickets? There's plenty to be had, but they will cost you.
For example, an eBay seller on Monday was peddling four tickets to the Black Tie & Boots Ball for the bargain-basement price of $3,399.
As the scalper writes: "Everyone is going to be at this ball, including Dubya, Laura and the twins! Shouldn't you be, too? So what are y'all waitin' fer? This event sold out in less than 40 minutes online and many people are selling their tix for over $1,200 each!
"So at this low buy-it now price . . . you can have your tix in hand and spend yer time shinin' ye ol' spurs and boots, pull out yer cowboy hat and you are ready to go! It starts at 7 p.m. and lasts until 2 a.m. and there will be some hootin' and a hollerin' entertainment there, too, including Yolanda Adams (that girls got some major pipes) and Lyle Lovett with so many more! There is even a Texas Fair where you can buy everything from George W. Bush playing cards to cowboy pajamas."
On Monday, The Beltway Beat spoke with Tracey Schmitt, spokeswoman for the Presidential Inaugural Committee, who says she is "thrilled by the enthusiasm we've seen from thousands of people across the country wanting to not only attend the inauguration but volunteer for festivities."
"We are putting the finishing touches on each event to ensure that they represent the great spirit and diversity of America," she says. "With less than two weeks to go, our staff is working around-the-clock to ensure that as many people as possible are able to enjoy the weeklong celebration, and that each event is open, inclusive and spiritual."
It's not unusual for President Bush to extend an olive branch to disgruntled Democrats, but this is going too far.
Actually, in labeling himself a "Republican democrat" Monday, Bush was only being optimistic about upcoming elections in Iraq, predicting January 2005 would be "an extraordinary month."
Freshman Rep. John Barrow, a Georgia Democrat who defeated Republican incumbent Max Burns in November, couldn't wait to arrive on Capitol Hill to cast his first vote.
Oh well, it's the thought that counts.
"Mr. Speaker," the newly elected congressman was forced to explain last week, "I was unable to cast my vote on Jan. 3, 2005. The pager provided to me by House administration - to notify me of votes - was defective.
"Consequently, I did not receive the announcement that the vote was taking place in time to cast my vote on the House floor. Had I been present, I would have voted 'nay.'"
Barrow, 48, a lawyer from Athens, has deep Georgia roots. His family has farmed, taught, preached and practiced law - from Athens to Savannah - for more than seven generations.
His father, James Barrow, was a Superior Court judge who helped lead Athens through the turbulent civil-rights movement, including presiding over a case resulting in the desegregation of Georgia public schools.
The congressman's high school class of 1973, in fact, became the first to graduate under desegregation, and he'd go on to became one of the youngest members of Harvard Law School, which he entered at age 20.
And how might the Democrat vote now that his pager has been fixed?
As a four-term county commissioner, he consistently voted against property-tax increases, for property-tax relief for homeowners, and for economic development.
"He'll do the same . . . in Washington," his campaign pledged.
The biggest regret for Republican Richard M. Burr when he was sworn in last week as North Carolina's junior senator was that his mother, Martha Burr, wasn't in the audience. Tragically, she died the previous week after a lengthy battle with bone cancer.
But others came to see the former five-term congressman take the oath in the Senate chamber, including former North Carolina Sens. Jesse Helms, Lauch Faircloth and Jim Broyhill, and senior North Carolina Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole.
In an interview Monday with The Beltway Beat, Burr, who defeated President Clinton's White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles in the November election, foresees his first term in the Senate as a productive one, albeit with a constant backdrop.
"Clearly, if we fail in the war on terror, everything else is insignificant," he explains.
Beyond that constant, as Burr drove home to voters throughout the campaign, "health care is the No. 1 crisis domestically."
"And the biggest challenge, whether we're talking about health care, or Social Security, or taxes, any of these core issues . . . is whether we are going to fix these things that are broken," he adds.
"For example, Social Security is not a debate over privatization or a national system," says the 49-year-old Burr. "It's over whether we're going to begin to pay the price of what we've committed incrementally over time or wait until we have one balloon that happens in two-thousand-whenever when suddenly there is no money."
As for working with the Democratic minority, Burr says, "I'm optimistic in the Senate. (Nevada Senator) Harry Reid is a very reasonable minority leader."
As for the House he left behind, "I think there is clearly fear of political polarization from Congresswoman (House Minority Leader) Nancy Pelosi and the House leadership."
OUT OF THE CLOSET
Last week, we reported that the Human Rights Campaign - which calls itself "the largest national lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender political organization" - had announced the formation of a search committee to find a new executive director.
But HRC didn't name the committee members, prompting San Francisco AIDS activist Michael Petrelis to ask if "closet cases" were running the search.
Hours after that column was published, HRC issued a press release naming the committee members. Among them are three officials of HRC's Washington office: Kevin Layton, general counsel; Cathy Nelson, development director; and Winnie Stachelberg, political director.
Search committee co-chairwoman Gwen Baba said: "We want this process to be as transparent as possible, while preserving the integrity of the search. We are pleased by the broad interest in the search, and we decided to release the committee names."
WEAR A SCARF
Given the tragic global events during the past four years, one might expect President Bush to be "serious and even somber" when he delivers his second inaugural address on Jan. 20.
In fact, those same words described Bush's demeanor while delivering his first inaugural address Jan. 20, 2001. On that historic day, of course, his mood centered less on world affairs and more on political divisions that surrounded his election victory.
Duration of Bush's first inaugural speech: a mere 14 minutes.
A far cry from the 1841 inaugural address of William Henry Harrison, whose claim to presidential fame is having delivered the longest inaugural speech and served the shortest term in office.
Hardly dressed for the weather, "Old Tippecanoe" (a distant relative of this columnist) spoke outdoors for 1 hour and 45 minutes - on a cold, wet, late-winter day. A month later, he was dead from pneumonia.
Inaugural visitors should know that the normal high temperature in Washington for Jan. 20 is 42 degrees, the average low 26 (the record low for the date is minus 2 degrees). Next week's long-range weather forecast calls for a period of rain or snow showers in the hours preceding inaugural festivities.
RATTLESNAKES . . .
Among its 2005 presidential inaugural activities and amenities in celebration of the second term of President Bush, the Ritz-Carlton Hotels of Washington will be serving guests gourmet rattlesnake nachos.
(Gene Mueller, The Washington Times' outdoors columnist, says rattlesnake has "the consistency of lobster meat, albeit a bit softer. I've eaten quite a bit, in fact.")
To wash down the rattlers, Texan distiller Tito Beveridge will be on hand at the various Ritz properties, pouring fellow guests his famous Tito's Vodka from Austin.
Finally, filtering through the Ritz atmosphere will be a repertoire of piano favorites, including "The Yellow Rose of Texas," "Don't Fence Me In," and "Happy Days Are Here Again" - and again.
. . . AND TURTLES
Washington's Willard Hotel, one block from the White House, has searched its records to reveal that Abraham Lincoln's inaugural luncheon at the historic property consisted of corned beef and cabbage, turtle soup and blackberry pie.
In fact, the president-elect stayed with his family at the Willard for an entire month, and his first presidential paycheck went toward his hotel bill of $773.75.
The Willard was described as bursting at the seams on the eve of Lincoln's first inauguration, when visitors were packed 10 and more to a room. As Harper's Weekly described one scene:
"Four bearded and otherwise long-haired individuals of the masculine gender are deposited on a bed which is hardly big enough to hold Tom Thumb and his wife. These individuals are fast asleep, and evidently snoring; four lads are placed in the middle of the bed and they lie in pairs, and on the left lie two more fat gentlemen, dead asleep on their backs, with their knees up, and their noses pointed thankfully to the ceiling."
Total number of cats that entered the Cat Fanciers' Association's 2004 "Best Cat" championship competition: 31,899.
Points by which a cat named Colin Powell defeated the runner-up: 114.
-Harper's Index, January 2005
Any sensible person would
Avoid a mad cow if he could,
But I'm willing to take
A rare chance with a steak
'Cause there's nothing that tastes so good
- F.R. Duplantier
James C. Miller III, former director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget and chairman of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission under President Reagan, tells Inside the Beltway the Washington law firm of Howrey Simon Arnold & White, of which he is associated, has donated $1 million to the tsunami relief effort.
"And we issue a challenge to other law firms to pony up as well," says Miller.
ALL EYES ON JERRY
As incoming chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, American taxpayers - and their watchdogs - are waiting to see whether Rep. Jerry Lewis, California Republican, will follow through on his pledge to rein in federal spending.
"Over the years, the chairmanship has morphed into a position more suited for stovepiping federal pork to the chairman's home district than stopping the explosion of federal spending," says Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) President Tom Schatz.
He recalls that the last appropriations chairman "to take his role as fiscal disciplinarian halfway seriously was former Rep. Bob Livingston (Louisiana Republican), who brought an ax to his first meeting."
Meanwhile, The Beltway Beat spoke with John Berthoud, president of the National Taxpayers Union (NTU), who says "from a taxpayers' point of view, Mr. Lewis has a very disappointing record."
"Republicans claim they are finally going to start reining in spending," Berthoud says. "If so, the war against bloated spending probably won't be led by Mr. Lewis."
He examined Lewis' record by using NTU's "Annual Rating of Congress," based on every roll-call vote affecting fiscal policy. (In 2003, NTU included 287 House and 269 Senate votes that dealt with reducing or controlling federal spending, taxes, debt and regulation.)
In 2003, he scored a 58 percent (letter grade of C), ranking him 183rd in the House and placing him in the bottom 20 percent of House Republicans. In fact, from 1992 to 2003, he was never once in the top half of House Republicans.