Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
Members of Congress who have announced they are retiring and might be casting about for something else to do, got a career suggestion from President Carter Wednesday night.
"I wish some of you would consider mining coal," he told 21 representatives and senators he had invited over for dinner. "It would be a lot of help to us."
The occasion was twofold: a tribute to all the members of Congress from both parties who won't be seeking reelection in November, and a chance to celebrate George Washington's 246th birthday.
It was held in the East Room at the White House where the Gilbert Stuart portraits of Martha and George Washington hung above a trio of actors, led by Cliff Robertson, delivering writings about and by the first president.
Stuart didn't know how to spell very well, Carter decided later, pointing out in the famous portrait of Washington the misspelled title of a book, "Constitution and Laws of the United States".
Among the readings was one in which Thomas Jefferson asled Washington why he advocated a second chamber of Congress.
"Why do you pour coffee into your saucer?" Washington replied. "To cool it. Even so, you pour legislation into the senatorial saucer to cool it."
"I think," said Jimmy Carter later to his guests, who included some of the most powerful committee heads in the Congress, "that all of you also recognize the truth about pouring legislation into the Senate saucer to cool legislation."
It evoked laughter, just as did another passage about how Washington escaped from office seekers. He retired to an orchard while Martha told the office-seeker he was not at home. When the coast was clear, she rang a cowbell.
"The president is still afflicted with office-seekers," said Jimmy Carter.
It was that kind of evening, with the Carters sharing their dinner table, arranged with 10 others cabaret-style in the East Room, with Sen. John Sparkman (D-Ala.), Rep. George Mahon (D-Tex) and Rep. W. R. Poage (D-Tex.) and their wives.
"Of all the folks in Washington, I know you gave up more for Lent than anybody else," Carter told them, adding that Frank Moore, his congressional Liaison, had figured out that accumulatively, the guests represented more than 400 years of congressional service.
"And we still haven't been able to get an energy bill," chided the president.
And mindful, perhaps, that there are still 10 months and an indeterminate number of votes yet to be cast on legislation he hopes to get through this congress, Carter was laudatory as well.
Some, like Reps. Charles Whalen Jr. (R-Ohio), Barbara Jordan (D-Tex.), James P. Mann (D.S.C.) and Charles Wiggins (R-Calif.) were in the room. One, Rep. John Moss (D-Calif.), relentless champion of consumers and investigator of government agencies, was not.
Hailing him as "one of the first men who brought to the forefront of our nation's consciousness the right of American citizens to have access to government records" Carter seemed unaware of Moss' absence.
He'd have said it anyway, whether he [Moss] was here or not because he deserved it," said Frank Moore.