West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt went to the State Department yesterday for toasts and empathy at a lunch hosted by Secretary of State Alexander Haig. Schmidt, reported to be in some political trouble at home, heard the reassurances of a man who knows whereof he speaks.
"From time to time public figures run into vicissitudes," Haig told his guests, recalling that "naughty Friday night show," during which an actor posing as a newscaster announced, "It is well known in Washington that when an attack was made on His Holiness, Secretary Haig ran over to the Cathedral and announced himself as second in command."
The guests chuckled. Some even guffawed.
The guest of honor was fresh from his morning meeting with the president, which Haig described as "splendid . . . very warm. The flow of communication was very good."
The guest list for the small luncheon in the elegant Benjamin Franklin Room was select and high-powered. Among those present to raise a glass to the alliance were Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinburger and Sens. Charles Percy (R-Ill.), Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and Joseph Biden (D-Del.). And the new ambassador-designate to West Germany, former Federal Reserve chairman Arthur Burns, who has known Schmidt for at least 10 years, since the chancellor's days as minister of finance.
"They know each other very well," said Erwin Behrens, a West German journalist traveling with the chancellor. "They have met various times at the Bohemian Club," the exclusive men's club in northern California.
"Congratulations, my old friend," said Schmidt to Burns, grasping his hand firmly.
"I've only been nominated," Burns said modestly.
After the meal of veal and vegetables it was time for the champagne toasts.
Haig had lots of kind words for the alliance.Schmidt's message to American leaders, he said, was, "We want an America that is consistent, reliable and predictable." Haig said the chancellor could rest assured. And finished with hopes for "peace and stability in an increasingly dangerous world."
"Mrs. Haig warned me," said Schmidt, "not to tell the story of the lion and the gladiator -- where the lion shrinks back from eating the gladiator because he can't bear the thought of making an after-dinner speech." And then he made one anyway, praising Haig and the Burns nomination.
"I hope, Chuck," said Schmidt, turning to Percy, "that the Senate will be wise enough to confirm him."
"By acclamation," the senator assured him.
That done, it was time for chancellor and senators to run off to Capitol Hill for meetings with Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker (R-Tenn.) and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Percy shook hands with someone from the West Germany delegation and said something about a vote.
"Vote early and often is my motto," said Richard Fairbanks, the assistant secretary of state for congressional relations.