Behind the Scenes of President Obama’s Jefferson Hotel Dinner for GOP Senators

Details from Wednesday night’s dinner, including the guest list, menu, and more.

By: Carol Ross Joynt

It’s been widely reported that President Obama hosted a dinner at the Jefferson Hotel on Wednesday night for a group of 12 Republican senators. Here are some of the behind-the-scenes details we’ve learned about the dinner from a few good sources, showing that much was involved in putting the evening together.

• It lasted about two hours, from approximately 6:30 to 8:30.

• A few of the senators grabbed a glass of wine in the hotel’s bar before dinner. Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina picked up the tab for the drinks.

• All food and drink was prepared under the watchful eyes of Secret Service agents.

• All staff who interacted with the President were pre-screened and cleared by security.

• The group dined in the Parlor Boardroom at one long table. The room can seat as many as 28, has its own wi-fi and a hook-up for a table phone, if needed. There was a computer set up in the room during dinner. The room also has special glass windows that can be “fogged” at the push of a button. In addition to the fog-effect windows, the room was screened off with draping.

• The senators entered and exited through the hotel’s front door on 16th Street, while the President used a private back entrance that led directly to the private dining room.

• Though the meal was served in one of the hotel’s private dining rooms, it was prepared by chef Chris Jakubiec and his staff at Plume, the Jefferson’s highly regarded signature restaurant.

• The President and senators ordered off a special limited menu, but all the items are regularly available at Plume. The appetizer choices were golden beet soup, hamachi tartar, Maryland blue crab risotto, or raw and cooked vegetable salad. The entrée options were roasted striped bass, Colorado lamb açai, filet of prime beef, and lobster Thermidor. For dessert there was peanut butter crumble with caramel apple, Heart of Guanaja chocolate tart, and iced Tahitian vanilla with praline bar. Wine was offered.

• With the average appetizer price at about $20, the average entrée at about $31 and desserts at $16, multiplied by 12, the dinner tab could have closed out at just over $800—closer to $1,000 with tip. This is not counting beverages.

• It’s been reported that the President picked up the check, which is true, but he didn’t literally pick it up, according to a source. It was billed directly to the White House. Does he expense it as “wooing the GOP?”

• According to one source, the reservation was made “last minute,” though reports say the idea for the dinner was hatched last week in a phone conversation between Obama and senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

• The President’s cohost, if there was one, would have been Graham, who vetted the guest list. Did Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell ask Graham why he was not on the list? We wonder.

• In addition to Graham and Burr, a the senators included were John McCain of Arizona, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Dan Coats of Indiana, Bob Corker of Tennessee, John Hoeven of North Dakota, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, and Mike Johanns of Nebraska.

Following on his unusual dinner on Wednesday with a dozen Republican senators, President Obama will have a bipartisan lunch on Thursday with representative Paul Ryan, the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee, and the panel’s senior Democrat, representative Chris Van Hollen.