News & Politics

A Night Out: Washington Press Club Foundation Annual Congressional Dinner

Dan Glickman, Miss America Kirsten Haglund, Robert Foster, Dr. Andrew Omidvar, and Emily Dirmel.

What: The Washington Press Club Foundation’s 64th annual fundraising dinner for the press, politicos, and the folks who love them.

Where: The Ritz-Carlton in the West End

When: Wednesday, February 13, from 6:30 PM until late.

Who: A who’s who of the Washington press corps and media types, along with various politicians (Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell) and a crowd of whoever paid for a ticket to get in. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews stepped in as a last-minute emcee replacement for Tony Snow, who was stuck at home with the flu. Plus Miss America (standing out in a short red dress in the sea of black gowns), and a couple of actors from HBO’s critically acclaimed series The Wire. Oh, and Ted Danson. No, we don’t know why, either.

Food: Light salad, filet mignon accompanied by a risotto dollop, pastries, and the winner—a sundae bar at the after-party, complete with cherries and bananas Foster.

Drink: Open bar with standard cocktails. Our Manhattan was particularly good. Red and white wines were served at dinner.

All photos by Rachel Cothran. Click on a photo to see the next one.

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Scene: Folks started trickling into the Ritz Carlton’s hall and ballroom around 6:30 Wednesday evening, but by 7 the space was packed shoulder-to-shoulder with press and politicians chatting, making their way to the bar, and looking generally more glamorous than you’d expect either reporters or congressional folks to look (attire was black-tie optional). An CQian who shall remain unnamed joked that only the pre-party and the after-party were worth going to; the dinner in between was “two hours worth of politicians who don’t know how to joke trying to make jokes.” But after Matthews’s introduction and the presentation of several journalist awards and tributes, Rahm Emanuel proved that wasn’t necessarily the case. The Illinois representative absolutely killed at the podium, throwing out one-liners at a pace that left little time for breath-catching between guffaws. A few choice ones:

• On Rudy Giuliani’s failure to capture the GOP nod: “It’s never a good day when you have more ex-wives than supporters.”

• On Valentine’s Day: “I tell my wife I love her and she says, ‘You’re likeable enough.’ Then I think I might get lucky. She calls that ‘the audacity of hope.’ ”

• On Fred Thompson: “He had an interesting take on No Child Left Behind: He married one.”

Texan Senator John Cornyn wasn’t quite as well received. He made a noble effort at reeling off the jokes, but most received only polite tittering, except for one referring to the nomination battle between Obama and Clinton as one between a “New York senator who was born in Illinois and an Illinois senator who was apparently born in a manger.” (UPDATE: Our bad; that was actually Mitch McConnell's line, which means Cornyn was even unfunnier than we thought.)

Later Cornyn noted that he felt right at home: “My wife doesn’t laugh at my jokes, either.”

Little matter—it was off to the after-party! Thrown by Congressional Quarterly, it was held right outside the ballroom, which during dinner had been transformed into a 1920s-inspired space, it was complete with a replica of a 1920s car, folks dressed in zoot suits and flapper outfits strolling around, and a live jazz band. Most of the bigwig politicians had left, but a jolly crowd stayed well into the night, drinking, talking and dancing.

Ratings (out of 5):

Boldface names: 4
Swankiness: 3
Food and drink: 3
Exclusivity: 3

Total score: 13 (out of 20)