Imagine looking under the Christmas tree and finding a weed wacker. That’s what President Bush received from his staff at the White House’s holiday staff party.
With an eye to the future, the staff figured he’ll be clearing lots of brush at his Crawford ranch once he leaves the White House. The self-propelled weed wacker will be delivered to the ranch.
Despite shaking hands at holiday parties that eventually numbered 25, Bush and Laura seemed in fine form at the holiday press party. For the party, journalists stood in a single line on Pennsylvania Avenue to be cleared several times and then walk through a Secret Service metal detector.
It was a far cry from Abraham Lincoln’s day when, for the president’s first reception, the crowd poured in the door, and those who couldn’t climbed in the windows. In the space of two hours, Lincoln and his wife Mary shook hands with about five thousand visitors.
The Bushes held back-to-back press parties, one for print and one for broadcast media. Each was attended by about 600 journalists and guests.
With Bush White House efficiency, before being greeted by a smiling president and first lady and having their photo taken with them, guests were herded into a line. For those who were nervous about chatting with the president, servers offered glasses of wine or sparkling rosé.
The buffet dinner included roasted lamb chops, chicken fried steak with gravy, fruitwood smoked salmon, cocktail shrimp, Maryland crab cakes, bourbon-glazed Virginia ham, cheesy stone-ground grits, and tamales with roasted poblanos and Vidalia onions. Not to mention chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream frosting, chocolate truffles, apple and cherry cobbler, Christmas cookies depicting first dog Barney and second dog Miss Beazley, and a coconut cake made from Laura Bush’s recipe.
What does the first couple do during the one-hour hiatus between the two press parties?
“Take off their shoes and zonk out on sofas in the residence,” says an insider.
In all, 12,000 people attended the holiday events, not all of which were dinners. Guests consumed 1,000 pounds of shrimp, 320 gallons of eggnog, 10,000 tamales, and 700 cakes. That does not include a 300-pound gingerbread White House created with ginger bread and covered with white chocolate.
Laura added two new parties this year, one for the kids and grandkids of Bush friends and family members and one for staff members of the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation.
The party for kids and grandkids was a brunch attended by 200 people, including 35 who were under age five. The menu featured Frosty’s Favorite French Toast with North Pole Maple Syrup, Merry Macaroni and Cheese, Elf Size Huevos Racheros, Mrs. Clause’s Crispy Chicken Fingers with Whoa Whoa Whoa Mustard Sauce, Holly Jolly Ham on Sweet Potato Biscuits, and Pigs in a Stocking.
The party for the National Park Service fit the theme for this year’s White House Christmas festivities. When they turned 40, Laura and her friends from high school Regan Gammon, Peggy Weiss, Marge Petty, and JaneAnn Fontenot rafted down the Colorado River and hiked out of the Grand Canyon. For their fiftieth, they rafted the Yampa River in Utah.
After Laura entered the White House, they continued the tradition of hiking in national parks.
“Every year when Laura was first lady of Texas, they entered a lottery to be able to camp at Yosemite National Park,” Laura’s former Chief of Staff Andi Ball told me for my book Laura Bush: An Intimate Portrait of the First Lady. “They never won. When she got to Washington, she said to me, ‘We’re going to Yosemite because we won the lottery!’”
“You did?” Ball said.
“Yes!” the first lady said, smiling.
The National Park Service had said it wanted the first lady to enjoy Yosemite and would open the camp grounds a day early for her and her friends. For the annual hiking trips, Secret Service agents who like to hike volunteer to go along. Usually, the women stay in tents set up for the summer. Laura is particularly adept at starting a fire.
“She would wake up and put on her contacts, build a fire,” Regan Gammon said. “She was a very good fire builder. She and I would share a tent. JaneAnn and Margie and Peggy would share another tent. Sometimes Laura would go and build their fire.”
With the 100th anniversary of the National Park System coming up in 2016, Laura decided to spotlight the parks for Christmas. She asked all 391 parks to contribute a uniquely painted Christmas ornament. Included were contributions from beaches that are part of seashore national parks.
“The shell trees and shell wreath in the Palm Room were Mrs. Bush's favorite, and she encouraged everyone to go see them,” Anita McBride, her chief of staff, tells me.
As her gift to the president, Laura made a donation to First Bloom, a National Park Foundation project aimed at getting city kids outdoors, introducing them to nearby national parks, and teaching them about nature.
John Bolton’s Book Party
A who’s who of the conservative movement turned out for the book party for John Bolton’s Surrender Is Not an Option. The party, at Ken Mehlman’s new Georgetown home, was given by Mehlman, David Keene of the American Conservative Union, Mary Matalin, and former Minnesota congressman Vin Weber.
Among those attending were Lynne Cheney, Tom DeLay, Scooter Libby, Grover Norquist, Barbara Comstock, Kate O’Beirne, John Fund, and Jonathan Felts, the White House political director.
“I’m the new Karl Rove,” Felts told me at the party. As he said this, he smiled, a recognition that no one could be another Rove.
Margaret Spellings’ Surprise Party
When Robert D. Spellings, the lawyer husband of Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, learned that she was scheduled to have dinner with her friend Condoleezza Rice at El Paso Café in northern Virginia, he decided to enlist Rice’s aid in springing a surprise 50th birthday party three weeks later.
“I asked her [Rice] to set the trap which, of course, she loved doing,” Robert Spellings tells me. “I purposely tried to keep it small. About 15 or 20 people came up from Austin, and the total count was around 70. Both her sisters helped with the plans. It was interesting that she was surprised. Odds were about five to one that we couldn’t pull it off.”
Did Spellings utter her trademark expletives when she saw the guests?
“Not at all,” her husband says. “She just stood there with her mouth wide open! Then she turned and saw me and gave me a look which I thought meant, ‘I can’t believe you got me.’”
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via e-mail. Go here now.
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