- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 7, 2007

Thursday was ladies’ day at the Embassy of Kuwait as well as on Capitol Hill. Hours after Nancy Pelosi became the first female speaker of the House, a bipartisan group of six influential women hosted a glitzy dinner to honor Melanne Verveer, co-founder and chairwoman of Vital Voices Global Partnership, whose mission is helping empower women all over the world.

The occasion was about as civil as dinner parties get, bringing together a cross section of Washington society in a decidedly nonpartisan way. The only male speaker was Kuwaiti Ambassador Salem Al-Sabah, introducing special guest Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who had been sworn in earlier to her second six-year term and who stood patiently at the reception for endless photo ops with Vital Voices’ corporate sponsors. (Not surprisingly, given the location, many were oil company reps from the likes of Shell, BP and Exxon.) Mrs. Clinton (along with Texas Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who was not present) is honorary co-chairwoman of the organization that began when Mrs. Verveer was her White House chief of staff.

There were congratulations and appreciative gestures back and forth all evening: Rima Al-Sabah praised donors and welcomed newly-sworn-in District Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and his wife, Michelle. Anita McBride, chief of staff to first lady Laura Bush, praised her boss’s efforts for the cause. Mrs. Verveer thanked Mrs. Al-Sabah — “a force of nature as everybody here knows” — and co-chairwomen Beth Dozoretz, Donna McLarty, Debbie Dingell, Marlene Malek and Lilibet Hagel while making sure to acknowledge Hunaina Sultan Ahmed Al Mughairy, “the first woman from Oman to be named an ambassador,” who was duly applauded.

Mrs. Verveer lauded Mrs. Clinton for taking “the message about women’s full participation in all sectors of society to 70 nations” and, in turn, was hailed by her former boss as someone who is “an extraordinary channel for cooperation across all kinds of boundaries and borders … she lives it, she breathes it, she feels it.” Speaking without notes, Mrs. Clinton also commended the Kuwaitis for “extraordinary support given to the United States during the past years;” referred to Mrs. Bush as someone with “deep commitment on these issues, and certainly in the aftermath of 9/11 and particularly in respect to Afghanistan;” and acknowledged Vital Voices’ benefactors whose “understanding about why women’s rights are absolutely critical to America’s national interest and of the kind of world we want to help build.”

Mrs. Clinton’s citing of Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel for “extraordinary courage in the last year speaking out” drew the loudest applause of the night, with guests interpreting her remark as praise for his public voicing of critical opinions about the U.S. war in Iraq.

Asked later about his reaction to the dinner, Mr. Hagel played it cool in trademark fashion. “It was either this or my bowling league, and I chose this,” he said.

Guests included Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Anthony M. Kennedy; former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright; former Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen; ABC News correspondent George Stephanopoulos; former Hewlett-Packard chief Carly Fiorina; blogger Arianna Huffington; Motion Picture Association President Daniel Glickman; Frances Townsend, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism; and New York singer Natalie Toro, who entertained with numbers that included — what else? — the feminist anthem “I Am Woman.”

— Ann Geracimos

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