Both Sens. Edmund S. Muskie and Howard H. Baker said they were honored to be at the head table for the luncheon but preffered not to join the club just at this time.
It was the eighth annual reunion of the Former Members of Congress, and Baker, Muskie, and the other practicing senators there were quite willing to settle for guest privileges.
Earlier, they had presented their fifth Distinguished Service award to Nelson A. Rochefeller, the former vice president, and governor of New York.
Former president Gerald R. Ford, an earlier recipient of the award, was on the House floor to honor his vice president.
Ford, remembering his tenure in the House, noted that the carpet there had changed, but not the lapses of attention by those in the chamber.
Rockefeller, saving the light touch for the luncheon later in the Senate Caucus Room, accepted the award with a warning of the "hard reality" that free societies today face, "the most serious challenge to their survival in the history of democracy," because of "carefully-laid plans to confuse, divide, intimidate, and undermine their will. . ."
All together, 86 former members of the House and Senate from 31 states are back in the nation's capital for their reunion and two days of activities.
At the luncheon, Reva Bosone, 83, was as feisty from her wheelchair as she had been on the House floor during two terms as a Democratic representative for Utah from 1948 to 1952.
"If I were young again, I'd run for Congress and I sure would raise hell," she said. "You know I was one of only four House members to vote against giving the CIA more power and money without scrutiny in 1950 and I was right."
Chet Holifield, who served 32 years in the House before leaving in 1974, and who came from California for the reunion, said he well remembered Rep. Bosone. "I handled that bill on the floor," he recalled ruefully. "It was an obscure section in the Department of Defense reorganization and you never get everything you want in legislation."
Lafayette Patterson, 90, had come from Alabama for the reunion. He was sworn into Congress a half century ago in 1928 and served three terms. He recalled yesterday that he didn't retire voluntarily.
"I said I wasn't coming to Washington" to play the usual demagogue against Negroes at that time. The state legislators could not buy, sell or scare me so they wiped out my district." And he went back to the life of a country teacher.
The FMC, founded by former congressmen Walter Judd and Brooks Hays, now has 508 members and hopes soon to surpass the 535 members of the sitting Congress. Members are now talking for an oral history record of Congress, to be housed in the Library of Congress. The project is being funded by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Ford Motor Company Fund.
Muskie noted at lunch that Rockefeller was selling his estate at Seal Harbor, Maine, but at least keeping a boathouse in Muskie's home state. To set the record straight, Rockefeller noted that the boathouse was really a reconverted coal wharf. Rockefeller, who was accompanied by his wife, Happy, observed that his plans to sell his Washington estate on Foxhall Road had raised protest from neighbors who, he said, had enjoyed a "free park for 40 years" and now characterized the planned $350,000 homes as "slums."
Even for Holifield, who left Congress only four years ago, there weten't that many familiar faces in the House chamber. Since 1970, more than half of the House membership has changed, with the infusion of many younger members in their 20s and 30s.
And Patterson, whose memories go back 50 years, mused, "You know, the changes in Congress since I was there reflect a lot of the changes in American society. But one thing, back then, Alabama had 10 members in the House and California had 11. Today it's seven for Alabama and more than 40 for California. That's how the population has moved."