- The Washington Times - Friday, February 7, 2003

Laughter deferred to steely resolve this year at the usually rambunctious Washington Press Club Foundation's Congressional Dinner.
Traditionally a lighthearted affair marked by playful partisan sniping (and occasional over-the-top vulgarity), Wednesday night's event was dinner in the shadow of a looming war with Iraq and tempered with mourning for the seven astronauts of Space Shuttle Columbia.
The evidence was everywhere, from the somber faces during a moment of silence for slain journalists and the Columbia crew to the hushed singalong during "The Star-Spangled Banner" trumpet solo.
Instead of the usual presidential video ribbing members of the press for their many foibles, Washington Press Club Foundation President Adam Clymer of the New York Times read a restrained letter from President Bush, who lauded journalists for "hard work and dedication" reflecting "the true character of America."
Still, the 59th annual dinner at the JW Marriott Hotel did produce a few laughs, mostly from Sen. John McCain and Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr.
Emcees Chris and Kathleen Matthews, no Burns and Allen, bickered playfully about their courtship. Mr. Matthews, the bombastic host of MSNBC's "Hardball," joked that the Rev. Al Sharpton had accused his fellow Democratic presidential nominees of "kidnapping and sexually abusing" him, a pointed reference to Mr. Sharpton's role in promoting the scandalous Tawana Brawley case in New York.
Mr. Ford, a Tennessee Democrat, praised Mr. McCain's presidential bid in 2000, claiming that if the senator had been elected, "the nation wouldn't have had all these problems," a whack at erstwhile Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's troublemaking toast to Strom Thurmond at the senator's 100th birthday bash.
He lampooned the chatty Mr. Matthews. "This is the first time I've been within 10 feet of Chris Matthews and gotten in a word edgewise," he said.
Mr. McCain, whom Mr. Matthews called "a statesman, war hero and 'Saturday Night Live' superstar," roasted actors Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon, who have spoken out against war with Iraq.
"They call D.C. 'Hollywood for ugly people,'" the Arizona Republican said, leveraging the deft, deadpan delivery that served him well on "Saturday Night Live." By that measure, he concluded, the movie capital could be called "Washington for the simple-minded."
Even in happier times, the annual dinner isn't all about appreciating Congress or indulging in stand-up humor. It raises money for journalism scholarships, primarily for women and minorities.
The night honored the staff of the Boston Globe with the Worth Bingham Prize for coverage of sexual abuses by Catholic priests.
Guests prominently included Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Hillary Rodham Clinton, Motion Picture Association of America President Jack Valenti and pollster Kellyanne Fitzpatrick. Dining at The Washington Times' tables were Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Reps. Jennifer Dunn of Washington and Katherine Harris of Florida.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's speech to the U.N. Security Council, laying out the case against Saddam Hussein, was a staple of conversation during the pre-dinner cocktail reception.
Mrs. Dunn said his presentation had included information she hadn't known about previously. "The biggest problem is that people aren't going to make up their minds on evidence," she said, but noted that she sensed a softening of France's hard-line position against military action.
Sen. George Allen of Virginia said the United Nation's "relevance and respect" are at stake in the Iraq crisis. He predicted that France eventually would side with the United States and that, in turn, would persuade Russia and China to align with the allies. Nevertheless, he said he is wary about what the dictator might do in the weeks ahead. "He's got a few tricks up his sleeve."
Mrs. Harris arrived after a whirlwind day of meetings that had forced her to miss Mr. Powell's historic speech, but she already had heard enough to support Mr. Bush's case for military intervention.
"I believe the first U.N. resolution stands on its own," she said.

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