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Gingrich privately courts conservatives

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We always thought Newt should never, ever have cozied up on that love seat with then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in 2008 to do that goofy climate-change ad for Al Gore.

And, indeed, it appears he’s still working hard to explain himself — about that and many other matters.

We got an invitation the other day from legendary conservative fundraiser Richard Viguerie and veteran Republican strategist Diana Banister telling us that, “at the request of former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich,” they had “arranged a private time for him to meet with a small group of conservative leaders and ask that you be part of the group.”

The meeting is in Rosslyn on Wednesday — Pearl Harbor Day — from 9 to 11 a.m. The duo acknowledged that “this is short notice, but we think it is important that leaders of the conservative movement receive a personal update” from Gingrich “on the status of his campaign for president, his strategy for winning the nomination and beating Barack Obama and the role that conservatives will have in the Gingrich campaign and, if elected, a Gingrich White House.”

Yes! Now you’re talking jobs. Okay. Not going to be greedy. We don’t need an ambassadorship. (Senate confirmation would be dicey.) But consul in Florence would do just fine.

“This will not be a typical meet and greet,” the e-mail said, “but an opportunity for you to engage in a serious conversation about the future of our country.”

But it’s only two hours, so “we want to hold a tight schedule.” During the first 45 minutes “we will mingle, take photos and have informal conversations,” the e-mail said. Then “Newt will make his formal remarks” for 30 minutes, and the last 45 minutes will be Q&A.

“Time is short,” the invitation noted. “The Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida nominating contests will conclude in just two months,” and this meeting “is one of the few opportunities conservative leaders will have” to get together before then.

“This is not a fundraiser nor is this an endorsement,” Viguerie and Banister said, noting that they hadn’t endorsed anyone yet. They went on to specify that if the invitee is actively supporting another candidate, “we certainly respect your decision but we must request” that you don’t come.

This meeting “is a chance for leaders of the conservative movement to see if Newt would govern as a conservative, including filling his administration with conservatives.” (Jobs galore!)

The meeting is closed to the press, photo ID is required, “and we would appreciate it if you kept the date and location confidential,” Viguerie and Banister said.

No problem. Mum’s the word.

Parties go on at 1600 Penn

Various agencies, including the Justice Department and the CIA, are cutting back on holiday parties this year, noting the budget crisis and the president’s executive order last month directing them to cut spending on travel, swag, smartphones, printing and so on.

But when it comes to fancy holiday parties, nothing beats the two dozen or so at the White House that will see 12,000 or so guests munching on wonderful hors d’oeuvres and dining in the State Dining Room on the lamb chops, shrimp and other fine cuisine laid out on a long buffet. And the eggnog.

There are parties — often two a day, one in the late afternoon and another in the early evening — for members of Congress (both parties), military folks, the Secret Service, friends and contributors, and others. There’s also a party for the White House staff (including the people who actually keep the place running, such as the butlers, cooks, electricians and plumbers) .

The White House isn’t cutting back because, aside from the congressional party, the Democratic National Committee is picking up the tab for the events.

Some parties will include photos with the Obamas. Michelle Obama, if the past is a guide, will look radiant and warmly greet guests — even at the press parties. At those parties, her husband will look, well, as if he would rather be just about anywhere else. Which is probably the case.

Fallout over a number

Our colleague Glenn Kessler , The Washington Post’s Fact Checker, recently waded into the bitter fight over the costs of the U.S. nuclear program and awarded the Ploughshares Fund two Pinocchios — which is pretty bad — for estimating that the United States will spend $700 billion over the next 10 years on “nuclear weapons and related programs.”

The Obama administration, no friend of nukes, said that was about triple what the program will cost. Kessler, though commending Ploughshares’ efforts, said the fund needed to rework the numbers.

In response, Ploughshares said that “whether we are spending $500 billion or $700 billion on nuclear weapons in the next decade — the number is still too high.”

This prompted other anti-nuke folks to criticize Ploughshares for bad tactics. Eric Sapp, executive director of the American Values Network, argued in an e-mail that “backing off the number” is like “blood in the water . . . for our opposition.”

“For better or worse, $700B is out there,” he noted in an e-mail to allies. “If we start openly backing off of it we run a BIG risk of building political and press momentum around the narrative that we just made this all up and don’t have any credibility.”

Sapp, in a piece in the Huffington Post, strongly defended the number, though he, too, said that even if it were off by a bit, the cost would still be too high. “The number shouldn’t distract from the debate,” he told us, “but we didn’t just make this up.”

The debate continues.

A White House arrivederci

Much sadness these days in Bronte, Sicily, ancestral home of the Schiliro family, with the announcement Monday that top White House aide Phil Schiliro is leaving at the end of the year.

Schiliro, who ran the legislative strategy for passage of the economic stimulus package, health-care reform and the confirmations of two Supreme Court justices in the first half of the Obama administration, has spent 2011 as special adviser to the president. Schiliro’s range of issues also included coordinating White House action on the debt limit.

Before his White House job, Schiliro worked on the Hill as Democratic chief of staff on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. He’s said to be taking some time off to figure out future plans.

“The White House will not be the same without Phil,” Obama said in a statement.

70 years ago

Speaking of Pearl Harbor Day, author and public affairs guru Craig Shirley is out with a new book: “31 Days That Changed America and Saved the World,” a history of America just before and after the date that will live in infamy.

With Emily Heil

Twitter: @InTheLoopWP
The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop

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