"It's nice to be out of the Alamo and still be alive," quipped Rep. Pat Schroeder (D-Colo.) striding across the Mansfield Room in the U.S. Capitol yesterday to shake the hand of Aliza Begin.
Like Schroeder, many among the 100 or so guests invited to tea for the Israeli first lady were survivors or the wives of surviors in last week's national election.
"There are a few here," said Ina Ginsburg, "which is nice."
There were also a few casualties. "We're in the healing process," said Marlene Stone, wife of Sen. Richard Stone (D-Fla.), whose bid for reelection collapsed in the primaries when he failed to win renomination.
"You're looking at the wife of an endangered species," said Petesy Hollings, whose husband, Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.), will lose his budget committee chairmanship come Jan. 20. "Fritz told somebody, 'To hell with the Barrier Islands -- save the Congress.'"
Then there were cabinet wives who included Ethel Klutznick, Pat Marshall and Jane Muskie.
"I wish he'd had time to have had more of an impact," lamented Muskie, wife of Secretary of State Edmund S. Muskie, who resigned his Senate post last spring.
Muskie said there was no scarcity of job offers to her husband. "For years he's had chances to do a number of things. I hope whatever he does it'll be for a value other than money -- except," she continued, brightening a little at the prospect, "that helps, too."
Casey Ribicoff said it wasn't a premonition of a Democratic debacle that kept her husband, Sen. Abraham Ribicoff (D-Conn.), from seeking reelection. "He had a fabulous win six years ago and that night he turned to me and said, 'I want to have a great term and then call it quits.' So there never was any problem for him.
Helen Jackson, taking a turn at the teapot, nodded "you said it" that she had her fill of speculation about Sen. Henry Jackson (D-Wash.) becoming Ronald Reagan's secretary of Defense. "Frankly, he hasn't been asked, but none of the reporters ever believe that."
As for the news that Jackson is among several senators targeted by conservatives for defeat in 1982, when he is up for re-election, Helen Jackson appeared unconcerned. "He told me about it this morning, but I'll worry about that next week. I delegate my worries."
On the other side of the political teapot was Nancy Thurmond, still admitting surprise over the Reagan landslide that will sweep her husband, Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) into the chairmanship of the judiciary committee. "Strom was out a lot campaigning for Governor Reagan," she said, "but he never thought he'd be affected by a Reagan-Bush victory."
At the other end of the table, but not the political spectrum, sat Carol Laxalt, whose husband, Sen. Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.), helped mastermind Ronald Reagan's victorious campaign. Calling Nancy Reagan "a lady with a lot of class who does things elegantly," she said, "I'll help as much as I can" to get the Reagans settled in Washington. "I've only been here six years myself -- maybe I'll learn something on the way."
Cohosting the reception were Mary Johnston, wife of Sen. Bennett Johnston, (D-La.), and Ester Coopersmith, outgoing public member of the U.S. delegation to the United Nations. A similar party was given last winter for Jihan Sadat, wife of the Egyptian president.
As a gift, Sadat received a pyramid-shaped telephone. There was an airplane-shaped phone for Begin. "To call each other," said Coopersmith. "When she tells you she's by the pyramid phone, you tell her you're on your own private plane."