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Twin Peeks

At Parties, Jenna and Barbara Are the Unofficial Main Event

By Ann Gerhart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 20, 2005; Page C08

It's 10:40 p.m. Tuesday, and the crowd packed into a hotel ballroom for the Texas State Society's pre-inauguration party has just given an oversize Texas cheer for a party sponsor, the National Beer Wholesalers Association. Oh yeah!

Here at the Marriott Wardman Park, Big Head Todd and the Monsters are onstage, doing their Austin party band best, and there's some dancing down front. The girls are wearing their $200 jeans and their slinky satin tops, hanging on the arms of guys in scuffed boots, and the crowd is moving around, waiting for some electrifying moment that will rock the room.

Jenna and Barbara Bush clap as their parents take the stage at the D.C. Armory. (Dudley M. Brooks -- The Washington Post)

And then: "There she is!" Necks crane toward the VIP section, high above the dance floor. Girls go on tippy-toe, little squeals of excitement escaping from their pretty mouths. Jenna Bush, 23, is at the VIP bar ordering a vodka and tonic. She has to get her own drink? Guess her mother wasn't kidding when she said neither of her daughters has someone she's going to marry. "I would get her a drink," mumbles a young man. "I would get her anything." (Does he want to put his name to this? "I don't think that would help me out with her, do you?" he says.)

Jenna waits her turn, giving her shining blond hair a toss. She leans in, gives the bartender a dazzling smile, takes a long pull through the straw of her drink. She is wearing jeans and heels and a filmy black top, and she is carrying a white furry wrap and a cell phone. The VIP section is full of attractive, fashionable twenty-somethings who look like they're not hurting for money, life is going their way -- and they leave her alone. Not cool to rush the boss's daughter.

But on the other side of the rail, it's like a celebrity has come in range, right off the pages of Us magazine. People stare. They follow Jenna's hair as she moves, a couple of girlfriends by her side, a couple of guys standing around, shifting awkwardly from foot to foot. And we want to see Barbara! Where's Barbara? Oh, there she is, partly behind a column, in a pink blazer. She looks hot, too, everybody agrees.

The second time around, the girls are the only surprise we can hope for. At the 2001 inauguration, everybody was new. We waited to see if George Bush really couldn't dance (he couldn't), and we waited for Lynne Cheney to say something outrageous (and that stopped happening), and we waited to see what Laura Bush would wear.

Now we know them all, and we know what happened in between, and we know we wanted steady leadership in times of change. But that doesn't slake the thirst for something a little dangerous, flirty and unpredictable. And that would be our First Daughters, from the Celebrification Wing of the Republican Party. It's a small wing, just them and that outsize Arnold Schwarzenegger. C'mon, who else? The Singing Senators? Stephen Baldwin? Please.

So we wait for the girls, grown up since they stood on that platform for the swearing-in four years ago. Jenna and Barbara had their Jimmy Choo boots, but they didn't have the presence of mind yet to know when to stand and when to sit, so that outgoing President Clinton had to nudge them to take their places beside their father and mother and that Bible.

They create a buzz wherever they go. At Tuesday afternoon's Youth Concert at the D.C. Armory, there is so much pent-up demand for them to appear onstage -- might they reprise their cheeky sister act from the Republican National Convention? -- that a spokeswoman from the Presidential Inaugural Committee finds reporters and whispers: "There was a lot of erroneous reporting. Barbara helped organize [the concert], but they were never going to host."

They know we're watching, of course. President Bush told Jenna so, after she stuck out her tongue at news photographers earlier this year on a campaign trip with Daddy. "I said, 'You've got to be careful,' " Bush told Phil McGraw on the television show "Dr. Phil." "You're in a fishbowl, and whether you like it or not, every move you make, particularly when you're with me, will be recorded."

Today there will be the swearing-in and a luncheon and an official ball or two. Tomorrow there will be a prayer service. But Tuesday night, in the fishbowl, Jenna comes over to the rail and leans over, beckoning. It's too loud for her to holler, so she settles for gesturing, with some urgency, that more friends join her. By 11 p.m. she's back at the bar, then back to the rail, smoking and sipping, while a young man caresses her hair and her back. Stephen Baldwin approaches, and Jenna politely says "Hi," then turns right back to watch the band.

Several feet away, on the wrong side of the rope, a girl is trying to drag her friend away. "I just wanna see them in person," he protests. "C'mon," she says. "You can see them in the parade."

Special correspondent Anne Schroeder contributed to this report.

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