- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 1, 2001

Most House and Senate Democrats yesterday snubbed President Bushs invitation to lunch at the White House, preferring to stay home, travel in their districts or, in one case, dine with a niece in Washington.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, ranking Democrat on the Senate education committee working on a key part of the presidents program, chose to have lunch with Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who works in Annapolis, instead of accepting the presidents invitation.
"He had a long-standing lunch with his niece," said press assistant Matt Ferraguto. "I cant tell you anything else."
New Yorks senior senator, Charles E. Schumer, was in Buffalo, "traveling," said press assistant Phil Singer. "He had a couple of meetings that were scheduled."
Asked if the senator could have rearranged his schedule to attend the luncheon, Mr. Singer said angrily, "Look, he was supposed to be in Buffalo today and thats where he is." He then hung up.
Only about 50 Democratic members of Congress attended the luncheon, intended to foster bipartisanship and celebrate Mr. Bushs first 100 days in office.
Invitations went out to all 535 members April 20 and were taken by courier to Capitol Hill, but only 41 senators and 152 representatives attended.
No members of the Congressional Black Caucus or the House Democratic leadership — including Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri — attended, nor did Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota.
"He had a previously scheduled trip out of town," said Mr. Daschles deputy press secretary, Molly Rowley. "Its been on his schedule for a couple of months. Hes got some meetings."
Asked with whom, Miss Rowley said: "Well, hes got a meeting with the New York Times editorial board."
Mr. Gephardt, for his part, attended a "field hearing" in St. Louis on the "historic homeowners tax credit," said his communications director, Erik Smith.
The minority leader, asked on ABC News last night whether an invitation to the White House is a "command performance," said: "I dont think it ever is.
"In this case, it came at the last minute; schedules couldnt be broken. And again, we need meetings not to celebrate things that did or did not happen, we need meetings to have real collaboration, real negotiation to get bipartisan solutions."
Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, Maryland Democrat, also stayed away, preferring to keep appointments with local officials from Cecil and Harford counties to attending the lunch with the president.
Some high-ranking Republicans also missed the lunch, including House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois, who addressed an American Hospital Association conference in Chicago.
And some had unusual reasons, such as Sen. Don Nickles, who played golf in a fund-raising event for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Sen. George F. Allen, Virginia Republican, was not scheduled to return from Richmond until last night, when the first Senate vote for the week was expected.
"I suppose some people might be snubbing it, but Senator Allen is the last one who would do that," said spokesman Matt Raymond.
Virginias other Republican senator, John W. Warner — who is up for re-election next year — had a scheduled luncheon with campaign supporters and was unable to attend.
Freshman Republican Rep. C.L. "Butch" Otter, however, cleared his schedule and left Idaho on a 7 p.m. red-eye flight Sunday and landed in Washington at 6 a.m. to attend the luncheon.
"I had other people willing to buy me lunch in Idaho, so this wasnt just for the freebie meal," said Mr. Otter, who took the opportunity to lobby the Cabinet secretaries on issues important to his congressional district.
The schmooze, not the food, also brought Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, Maryland Republican, back a day early.
"It was a great opportunity for me to meet the president, and I got to bring up some important issues," he said.
A spokesman for Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, who attended the luncheon, said the Virginia Republican was eager to attend and called it "time well spent."
Mr. Bush was gracious to those who attended.
"Oh, I know we always dont agree," Mr. Bush said in a short Rose Garden ceremony before the lunch. "But were beginning to get a spirit here in Washington where were more agreeable, where were setting a different tone, so that when the good folks of this country look at our nations capital, they see something they can be proud of.
"I think America is lucky to have such distinguished citizens coming to Washington to represent them… . I also want to thank you for the constructive spirit in which weve conducted the peoples business. I know this, that whatever your views on a particular issue are, that we share a common goal, and that is to serve our country.
"And its OK sometimes to share a meal, and thats why were here," he said to laughter.
He shared the credit for his successes with Congress. "Today marks our 100th day of working together for the American people. Weve had some good debates, weve made some good progress and it looks like were going to pass some good law," he said.
On the way to lunch, the president chatted up Rep. Neil Abercrombie, Hawaii Democrat, and even checked out the contents of a green shopping bag Mr. Abercrombie was carrying.
Mr. Bush received the contents of the bag — chocolate-covered macadamia nuts and coffee from the Hawaiian island of Kona — as a gift from Mr. Abercrombie.
Mr. Bush sat with Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi, and Sens. Daniel K. Inouye, Hawaii Democrat, Thad Cochran, Mississippi Republican, and Bob Graham, Florida Democrat.
Reps. Gary A. Condit, California Democrat; Deborah Pryce, Ohio Republican; Dick Armey, Texas Republican; Jim Nussle, Iowa Republican; and Jennifer Dunn, Washington Republican, were also at his table.
Other prominent Democrats who attended include Sen. JohnB. Breaux of Louisiana, who said he didnt think Democrats were making a statement by staying away.
He said he attended because, "in Louisiana, we just dont like to turn down lunch invitations."
Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut and Daniel K. Akaka of Hawaii, and House members Ken Bentsen of Texas and Sanford D. Bishop Jr. of Georgia also attended.
But Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat and ranking member on the Senate Appropriations Committee, did not attend yesterdays lunch. He called it "a good show," but said, "You dont make any decisions in that size meeting."
As for Mr. Bushs bid for bipartisanship, Mr. Byrd said: "Well see what happens to bipartisanship when programs Congress has been interested in over the years … are being used to pay for a big tax cut. Thats not very good bipartisanship."
But Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said, "You can hear the sound of gridlock breaking," adding the president hoped the luncheon would ultimately become "part of the 100-day lore" at the White House.
* Audrey Hudson contributed to this report.

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