At a Portrait Party, a Portrait of Party Tension

Madeleine Albright, secretary of state in the first and so far only Clinton administration, with her official likeness.
Madeleine Albright, secretary of state in the first and so far only Clinton administration, with her official likeness. (By Lawrence Jackson -- Associated Press)
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By Al Kamen
Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Monday's unveiling of former secretary of state Madeleine K. Albright's stunning official portrait brought back many folks from her days in charge, including former deputy secretary Strobe Talbott, undersecretary Thomas Pickering, chief of staff Elaine Shocas and spokesman Jamie Rubin.

Ever-gracious Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice gave a touching introduction of Albright and, as she often has in the past, noted that they shared the same "intellectual father." Albright's father, professor Josef Korbel, was Rice's mentor on foreign policy when she was a student at the University of Denver in the 1970s.

Despite the party differences, the banter was friendly as Rice joked that there hadn't been a white male secretary of state in the past 12 years and Albright, calling Rice her "sister," joked that two-thirds of the secretaries of state in this century have been women. (Albright also lavished praise on portrait artist Steven Polson for the splendid likeness, given his "limited material.")

Rice welcomed the audience of more than 300 current and former diplomats, Clinton administration officials, members of Congress and other dignitaries, including Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer. But while sisterhood and "first women" seemed the theme, Rice didn't single out House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the highest-ranking woman ever, who was standing in front of her in the first row, about eight feet away. (Albright did thank Pelosi for dropping by.)

While bipartisan camaraderie abounded, there seemed a bit of tension within the Democratic ranks between the dominant Hillary Clinton people and the Barack Obama supporters, who were represented most prominently by Albright's former director of policy planning, Greg Craig; former assistant secretary Susan Rice; and former Clinton commerce secretary Norman Y. Mineta. (We're told the tension persisted at Albright's party after the unveiling.)

But everyone at least held things in check from the moment all those former top government officials, including Clinton national security adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger and former Al Gore national security adviser Leon Fuerth, and assorted ex-assistant secretaries and ex-White House staffers went through the metal detectors in that grand trailer outside the department.

In fact, we even noticed Pelosi and Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) actually chatting amiably as they walked out afterward. (And no, before the churlish amongst you ask, no one searched Berger on the way out.)

The Apartment of Defense

Everyone's heard about the subprime mortgage crisis, with people losing their homes and the attendant credit squeeze and all. The administration and Congress have been falling all over themselves pushing plans to help lenders and homeowners in distress.

But little has been said of the plight of the poor renter. We're thinking here of one renter in particular, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who the Pentagon says is being gouged by none other than the federal government.

Gates, who took the job last year, lives in a somewhat down-at-the-heels but spacious 19th-century home on a secure Navy compound in Foggy Bottom. (That place where he fell down the stairs and injured his shoulder this winter.) He's the first defense secretary to live in military housing, according to Tom Philpott, formerly of Army Times, who now writes an online column at

Current law requires that a civilian living in military housing be charged fair market value, which the Army Corps of Engineers estimated in this case at $6,500 a month. (We're advised by our real estate expert that $6,500 a month, depending on condition and size -- we've never been invited, so can't speak with authority to that -- is "quite reasonable given its stellar location.")

But that rent amounts to $78,082 a year, or 40 percent of the secretary's $191,300 salary. (We're not going to mention Gates's salary when he was Texas A&M president, plus all those boards and speaking engagements, which pushed his income comfortably over $1 million a year.)

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