The man raising the rafters at the Senate Caucus Room last night wasn't a senator but a preacher man -- the Rev. Leon Sullivan. He sounded just like one of the gang.
"A full tide can lift all the boats," Sullivan thundered into the microphone, "but not for those who have no boats! Give a man a fish, and he'll be hungry again soon, but teach a man to fish, and he'll never be hungry again!" The audience, many of whom were busy harvesting a hastily grabbed dinner from the buffet table onto small paper plates, nodded in agreement.
On the speaker's platform standing beside Sullivan were HHS Secretary Richard Schweiker and Sens. Robert Dole (R-Kan.), John Heinz (R-Pa.), John Chafee (R-R.I.) and Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.), all there to pledge continuing loyalty to Sullivan's cause -- the Opportunities Industrialization Centers, a job training program Sullivan founded in 1964 that has blossomed into a national network of civic leaders and corporate sponsors dedicated to providing job training for the poor and marginally employable.
Last night's reception was crowded with OIC workers bearing name tags and stories like this one from Roderic Frohman, a Presbyterian minister from Gary, Ind. "Three-fourths of our [federal] funding stands to be cut," said Frohman. "We were training 600 men to be carpenters. That won't make it. We were planning to employ 200 young people this summer. That's unthinkable now. The Reagan cuts will severely affect us in Gary."
The OIC comes to Washington every year, but this year the trip is perceived as more urgent. "This meeting is for mapping our survival strategies for the poor and unemployed. That's why we're here -- to keep OIC in the hearts and minds of Washington."
The hearts and minds of Washington have been preoccupied since Monday, and last night several of the senators and congressmen present, nearly all of whom had sponsored OIC legislation at one time or another, readily talked about their reactions.
"I'm still in shock," said Schweiker of the attempted assassination. "My wife and I were supposed to eat dinner with the president on Monday night in his private quarters. We drove back from speaking a engagement in Pennsylvania Monday afternoon and heard the news. Shocking."
Schweiker, a Senate veteran, echoed the sentiments of many of his colleagues when asked what effect the shooting might have on the Reagan budget's progress on Capitol Hill. "In the long run, I don't think it will have any effect," said Schweiker, "but in the short run, in terms of respect, it just may."
Pell expressed "deep sadness" at the assassination attempt. Asked what he thought of Secretary of State Alexander Haig's remarks at Monday afternoon's controversial press conference, Pell said, "I think they could have been better chosen."
"It was a dastardly act," said Sen. Howell Heflin (D-Ala.). "And I guess it will extend his honeymoon." As for Haig, scoffed Heflin, "a tempest in a teapot."
Dole was introduced, and like many of the senators who showed up last night, was quickly led up to the platform and lauded for his support. Schweiker was singled out for special tribute, and honor was paid to Secretary of Transportation Drew Lewis, who did not attend.
"Leon Sullivan is going to visit my wife tomorrow," said Dole, whose wife, Elizabeth, is a presidential assistant. "With everyone there over visiting the president, she'll be running the country."
Dole's appearance was brief, but not as brief as that of Sens. Ted Kennedy and Henry Jackson, who scooted in and out of the reception in a matter of minutes, as there was a budget vote beckoning upstairs.
"He's a hero, isn't he?" said Dole of the president as he edged out of the room. "It will no longer be the age thing that gets talked about, or the cowboy thing. This will be what people will remember."
"It was ghastly, ghastly," said Chafee, "to see someone you know, like Jim Brady, shot down like that. How can this have happened again? But I don't see it having any effect on gun control legislation unless the president comes out of this thing saying that it's changed his mind. But if it doesn't come from him, we won't see a whit of progress."