House Warming

By David Montgomery and J. Freedom du Lac
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, January 5, 2007

Despite the promised "new direction for America," getting the money out of politics and all of that, some facts of Washington life appear immutable and eternal.

"One hundred hours to make this the most honest and open Congress in history," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared at the beginning of a history-making day -- which ended last night with the Democrat from California presiding over a glitzy fundraiser open to anyone with $1,000 for a ticket.

A few folks in the block-long line of partygoers waiting to get into the National Building Museum -- social activists, feminists, union organizers, fat-cat liberals, Hollywood allies and not a few serious Deadheads -- did sense the cognitive dissonance. They promptly dismissed it in a tidal wave of idealism about the future under the nation's first female speaker of the House.

They had waited a long time for this night to party, nibble on goat cheese ravioli with pumpkin and truffle, wipe their lips with paper napkins embossed in gold with "Speaker Pelosi January 4, 2007," listen to former members of the Grateful Dead sing "Truckin' " and Tony Bennett sing "I Left My Heart in San Francisco."

"Democrats are back!" Pelosi said in her remarks during the few minutes reporters were permitted inside. "We are ready to lead, prepared to govern and determined to make you proud."

(A dozen years ago, it must be recalled, Newt Gingrich and the Republicans celebrated their return to power with a $1,000-a-plate dinner. Reporters were allowed in.)

Organizers expected 1,000 to 1,500 guests, with checks to be made out to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Many complimentary tickets were given out, and DCCC spokeswoman Jen Psaki could not immediately say how much money was raised. She said fundraisers are usually closed to the news media, but arrangements were made to allow reporters to hear Pelosi's remarks.

Outside in the line to get in, their faces illuminated by cellphones and BlackBerrys, people had high hopes.

"I am personally such an admirer of Nancy," said Susan Levine, vice president of a private equity firm in Boston. "I'm a working mom; she raised five children before she went into politics. What she said today about breaking the marble ceiling, I feel like I'm trying to do that every day."

"We're feminists and we're celebrating!" exclaimed Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, and Martha Burk, money editor of Ms. Magazine, almost in unison.

"The marble ceiling is certainly not broken, but it's nicely cracked," Burk added.

A long column of leaders and organizers from several labor unions walked from nearby headquarters.

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