Over cookies, orange juice, tea and coffee, 100 spouses of the new members of Congress met the spouse of the still-new president yesterday morning in the State Dining Room. "I want to welcome you to the White House, for those of you who haven't been before and are newcomers, like me," said Nancy Reagan, dressed in a 7-year-old navy dress.
After talking about unpacking and her anticipation of spring, Mrs. Reagan said, "I go out every day and check the tulips, the crocuses. I am anxious. You know the old saying," and she hesitated for a minute, "what is it, a watched pot never boils." When she finished speaking, Mrs. Reagan held an informal circle, chatting briefly with most of the wives.
One of the first to have a long chat with Kathy Loeffler, wife of Rep. Tom Loeffler (R-Tex.), who had received a note from the Reagans after her son was born six weeks ago. "I thanked her for the note and told her I had put it in his baby book. The note talked about children being the future of the country," said Loeffler.
When Sis East, the wife of Sen. John East (R-N.C.), approached the first lady, there was a little laughter between the two women. "We have known each other for years, so we want to say Sis and Nancy, and we were laughing about whether we should say Mrs. Reagan and Mrs. East," explained East.
While Edie Ritter mentioned that one of the jelly bean rivals lived in the congressional district of her husband, Rep. Don Ritter (R-Pa.), Mrs. Reagan said, according to Ritter, "The jelly bean thing was fun, but she had gotten a lot of mail from dentists."
For the most part, they steered away from the issues. But Carol Williams, wife of Rep. Pat Williams (D-Mont.), sneaked in some conversation about federal funding of programs for handicapped children. "I just wanted to bring to her attention that a group of congressional wives will be monitoring legislation affecting handicapped children," said Williams, past president of a Democratic wives' group. "We don't know where the cuts on those programs will come, but we thought she might be sympathetic. And she said she wanted to be kept informed."
Rita Jenrette was dying out as a topic, said several wives. Gayle Tauzin, wife of Rep. Billy Tauzin (D-La.), said Jenrette's personal problems and escapades were not an overriding issue with the wives. "I think more of the wives were upset that Jenrette said they had low self-esteem," said Tauzin. The group's president, Grace Nelson, wife of Rep. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), said "most of us try to avoid it. We try not to be negative. We don't want to add any fuel to the fire by making statements."