Reprinted from yesterday's late edition.
They hailed the chief at the Washington Press Club Wednesday night, not with the usual ruffles and flourishes but with bi-partisan good fellowship that's called the tune since Jimmy Carter's inauguration.
It was the club's annual salute to Congress, and 1,300 members and guests, the biggest crowd in recent years, turned out to size up both a new President and some of the new faces on Capitol Hill. Among the eight featured speakers were a couple of instant stand-up comics - Rep. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan (D-N.Y.) - and one standup fiddler, Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd of West Virginia.
The event was Carter's first Washington "social" appearance outside the White House, and in an evening where tradition demands that seriousness never stand in the way of a good joke, he held his own.
"I was feeling very good until they said there goes Billy's brother," he told the crowd of his walk down Pennsylvania Avenue following his swearing-in.
"The next day the mayor called to thank me for restoring faith in the city by walking in the streets unprotected and by getting my brother back to Plains."
If it didn't exactly leave 'em laughing in the aisles, it exhibited what one veteran Washington Press Club dinner-goer called "a lot of potential."
Fiddle in hand, and dressed for the occasion in shirt sleeves and galluses (suspenders in country talk), Byrd serenaded Carter with two selections, "Rye Whiskey," and "Cumberland Gap." Thunderous applause brought him back for an encore performed "especially for the President," a favorite of Carter's called "Amazing Grace." It was a side of Byrd little-known in Washington, though not unfamiliar on the campaign stump both in West Virginia and elsewhere.
But is was Mikulski of Baltimore who brought down the house by relating what it took to get her from Baltimore and ward politics to the House of Representatives, and more precisely, to the Sheraton Park Hotel Wednesday night.
The way Mikulski told it, seven years ago she decided to be an "overnight success" despite the fact that she had no personal pollster and could only call up her uncle, "a bookie," and ask "what the guys were thinking." Driven by the need for what she calls a "national image," she said she answered Robert Strauss' call in 1972 when he was looking for unknown Democrats.
Her assignment was to bring together the warring factions, something that made her feel like a "cigarette girl on the Hindenburg."
Her role model would be Barbara Jordan, she said, and to prepare for it, "I stole from Winston Churchill's newsreels." She continued her role-burrowing up to Wednesday night's dinner. With her new $2,000 wardrobe" and slimmed down by 65 pounds, the now stream-lined Congresswoman arrived at the dinner, she said, only to hear someone gasp: "My God, it's Carl Albert in drag."
It was the evening's show stopper.
Moynihan, assuming the role of himself for the occasion, looked and talked like an Old Testament prophet and had some words of advice for the President.
"Follow the straight and narrow path between right and wrong," he told Carter, who, in his remarks later allowed as how he would.
Sen. S. I. Hayakawa (R-Calif.) had agreed to speak, but at 4 p.m. canceled out, pleading what dinner committee co-chairman Sanford Ungar said were "various excuses."
They ranged from having to stay at his Senate office to "work for the state of California" to a "prior engagement" to now knowing the "Senate rules yet and having to study them." Club officers said Hayakawa had accepted the invitation to speak two months ago. Because of the lateness of his withdrawal, a substitute was not named.
The evening's only real bomb was Wyoming Republican Malcolm Wallop, whom the crowd felt too much of a literal johnny-on-th-spot with his stag party jokes. He shared the platform with Nebraska's Sen. Edward Zorinsky, and Reps. Jim Leach of Iowa, Mary Rose Oakar of Ohio and Jim Guy Tucker of Arkansas. Presiding was WPC President Ellen Wadley of CBS News. Unlike inaugural night when they were nearly an hour ahead f schedule, Wednesday night President and Mrs. Carter arrived promptly.