It’s the glint of top brass and the gleam of glitter, a hybrid mix of political theater and silver screen spectacle: 2,800 guests are expected at the 98th White House Correspondents’ Dinner on Saturday night, to mingle at the odd nexus of Washington and Hollywood. That’s a lot of “correspondents.” We’re talking President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, White House heavies, lawmakers, military leaders, lobbyists and pundits thrown in with actors, sports gods, singers, producers, creatives and one dog. That would be Uggie, the swell pup from the Academy Award-winning film “The Artist.” Uggie, who is likely to be the darling of the red carpet walk, is a guest of The Washington Times.
Among the proverbial stars and starlets, George Clooney, Stevie Wonder, Steven Spielberg, Goldie Hawn, Lindsay Lohan and Reese Witherspoon are part of the population; ABC late night guy Jimmy Kimmel will serve as toastmaster. The din before, during and after dinner is tremendous as formal-clad throngs drift through the Washington Hilton, buoyed by the rarity of the occasion, perhaps unnerved by the pomp and circumstance, not to mention uber-security.
Though tuxedos and midnight black gowns historically dominate the evening, there is usually good cheer and only a modicum of tacky behavior. Like presidents before him, Mr. Obama himself appears relaxed and at home in the venue, and for a few hours, there is brief harmony in the nation’s capital. Post-parties and post-post parties last into Sunday, but there is still reassuring news that dinner proceeds go toward student scholarships. And just so we don’t forget the distinct political underpinnings of it all, ever vigilant C-SPAN will offer live coverage beginning at 6:30 p.m. Saturday
News organizations use the aforementioned dinner to place interesting people very close to one another. But hey. There’s music, jokes, cocktails, dainties, fancy plates with baby vegetables and expensive perfume in the air. A little showbiz won’t hurt. Among the noteworthy guest combos:
Recent feminist icon Sandra Fluke will sit with Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican; Attorney Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. and Daniel Day-Lewis are together under the auspices of the Huffington Post. Reese Witherspoon will share space with CIA director David H. Petraeus and California Gov. Jerry Brown, courtesy of Newsweek and the Daily Beast.
Meanwhile, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus will sit near Eva Longoria, Charlize Theron and Green Bay Packers star Charles Woodson with Politico. Rep. Allen West, Florida Republican, will sit with airline hero Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and actress Clare Danes in CBS territory.
And incidentally, though The Washington Times’ canine guest Uggie has been barred from attending the actual dinner by official edict, the paper’s assorted table mates for the night include U.S. Navy Adm. James Winnefeld Jr., vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, Redskins owner Dan Snyder, District Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier and Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo.
It’s a done deal. The Defense Department will implement new policy changes to allow women in combat operations on May 14, opening 14,325 additional assignments to women in ground combat units. There are other changes, though. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta has directed the services to update him in six months on assignment implementation, “to include efforts to pursue gender-neutral physical standards,” among other things.
“The secretary of defense has said this is the beginning, not the end, of a process,” said Acting Under Secretary of Defense for personnel and readiness Jo Ann Rooney.
Are there candidates left to track? But of course. The remaining Republican presidential hopefuls are still pacing the campaign trail, most wandering. In his big finale run before suspending his campaign next week, Newt Gingrich has multiple events in North Carolina. But rumors are afoot that he’ll return to Washington to, yes, attend the big White House dinner as a guest of CNN - and function as a marked source of levity for the evening’s host Jimmy Kimmel, who believes the candidate has been on a “pie-tasting tour of America.”
Rep. Ron Paul goes to Texas to host a town hall at the University of Houston while Mitt Romney visits Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, as a guest lecturer - before he heads to Boston for a major fundraiser on Monday.
And though he’s been billed by Republicans as the “campaigner-in-chief” for some time, President Obama actually begins his “official” re-election on May 5, with raliies in Ohio and Virginia.