- The Washington Times - Friday, February 8, 2002

With September 11's somber pall lessening, Washington insiders are getting back to business mocking one another's political proclivities.The 58th annual Congressional Dinner, held by the Washingon Press Club Foundation Tuesday at the JW Marriott hotel in Northwest, gathered politicians and reporters alike for a good-natured assault on the latest headlines and newsmakers.
Enron, cable news anchor swaps and President Bush's budget proposal all were fair game throughout the night, a tony fund-raiser for the foundation, which provides journalism scholarships.
A double serving of speakers highlighted the evening's program, overseen by political humorist Mark Russell.
An uncharacteristically sardonic Vice President Richard B. Cheney joined in the festivities via videotape.
"Greetings from the cave," Mr. Cheney joked, then apologized for not appearing in person, saying he was wrapped up reading "a real page-turner."
He then held Bernard Goldberg's book "Bias," a look at liberal media influence, up to the camera.
The bespectacled Mr. Russell eschewed his piano shtick for a stand-up approach, hammering the inside-the-Beltway crowd with so many jokes he kept several punch lines ahead of them.
"Call me old-fashioned, but I wanna get my news from the old Greta Van Susteren," he said, referring to the legal analyst's recent cosmetic eye surgery.
Rep. Mark Foley, Florida Republican, proved an eventual comic hit.
The crowd, about 900 strong, made Mr. Foley earn his laughs, groaning at some early Enron references. Then his material turned pointed. He swiped at Florida Secretary of State Katharine Harris' excessive makeup and Janet Reno's run for the Florida governorship ("Janet, pick on somebody your own size"), leaving the crowd alternately gasping and roaring with laughter.
"A star is born," Mr. Russell enthused.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, the night's second speaker, immediately lowered expectations for her retorts.
"I don't do funny," the freshman senator deadpanned. Much of her performance proved her right, though the crowd agreeably chuckled along.
She did land a few blows, though, calling the Fox News prime-time lineup "the axis of evil."
Referring to Attorney General John Ashcroft's supposed coverup of the revealing "Spirit of Justice" statue, she said, "I thought Missouri was the 'Show Me State.' "
Guests at The Washingbton Times' tables included: Labor Secretary Elaine Chao and her husband, Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican; Rep. J.C. Watts, Oklahoma Republican; Sen. George F. Allen, Virginia Republican; Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Maryland Democrat; Drug Enforcement Administration Director Asa Hutchinson; Rep. Connie Morella, Maryland Republican, and Rep. Jennifer Dunn, Washington Republican.
Before the program, Mr. Russell chatted at a VIP reception with New York Times reporter Adam Clymer, among others, giddy that the nation's mood had improved enough to embrace his satirical spitballs once more.
"Everything's back to normal, really. Osama bin Laden has done more for the Republican party than Monica Lewinsky," Mr. Russell said.
As for the Enron embroglio, syndicated columnist Tony Blankley said the media scrutiny, so far, is justified.
"The public is deeply interested in the story. They're not overcovering it," Mr. Blankley said. That doesn't mean the press has another "gate" on its hands. "So far, there's not only no smoking gun, there's no smoke around Bush."
Mr. Armey, set to retire at the end of his term next year, was in no mood for bipartisanship as he surveyed the VIP bash.
"Democrats right now have no standing on anything with the American people," he said. "They're making a political scandal out of a business fiasco."
One of the Democratic Party's more visible members, Mrs. Clinton, slipped into the reception late, then shooed away a reporter asking questions about the president's budget proposal and its impact on New York City.
Apparently, she doesn't do impromptu interviews, either.

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