FIRST, THE West Virginians, led by Democratic freshman Rep. Bob Wise, held hands and rocked gently while they sang "Amazing Grace" in the carpeted Rayburn Building committee room. Then they put on their clogging shoes for some serious stomping.
Wise's were sparkling white and freshly polished for the occasion.
But, as Wise pointed out, clogging is not for carpets. So 150 West Virginians moved into the Rayburn's cavernous marble hallways, tap dancing to a raucous bluegrass band. They hooted and hollered and stomped in a way that The Hill hasn't heard since Andrew Jackson's mountain men came north to the Capitol for that inaugural humdinger.
"We just wanted to bring a little humanity to town," said the 34-year-old Wise, one of The Hill's new bachelors. "It's good for Congress to hear some clogging."
Eighty-five new members of the House and Senate were sworn in yesterday and, before the 98th Congress even began, they got down to serious business with a blast of cocktail parties that baptized the freshmen in one of Washington's most venerable vehicles for politicking. Parties. About eighty-five of them.
From delicate, shrimp-filled croissants at the office of Sen. Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.) to chips and dip and some fine bluegrass at Wise's free-wheeling dance-a-long, The Hill preened and cavorted once again.
Clearly, the most elated people here were the new members, who smiled extravagantly and strutted like recent college graduates on their first day of work. Talk of unemployment problems in their districts wafted from Scotch to bottled beer and from office building to office building. But for the most part, yesterday was one big movable glass of chablis and a plate of egg rolls.
"Me and my bride here are paying our respects to all the new senators," said Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), whipping out a neatly typed index card brimming with a list of parties.
Everybody carried index cards yesterday.
"Yes. I'm going over to see Sen. [Frank] Lautenberg (D-N.Y.) and Sen. [Jeff] Bingaman (D-N.M.)," said Laxalt, pulling out his card. "I'm bipartisan today. It sure is a lonely place when you first get here."
Jeff Bingaman learned that the hard way yesterday. He was late for his own party because he couldn't find it. The Capitol had changed rooms on him so many times.
"Do me a favor," drawled Sen. Wendell Ford (D-Ky.), slapping Pamela Harriman, the Democratic Party's grande dame of fund-raising, on the back. "Tell Jeff I was here." And he left.
Bingaman finally arrived, pressing hands with hundreds of strangers as blinding lights glared in his eyes. The food and his wife, Ann, were late for the party, too.
"Well, I don't have a staff and I don't have an office just yet," said Bingaman, trying levity under the circumstances. "They moved us twice already this morning and they say I'll have an office by the end of the week."
"Well, now you know how the Senate operates," offered Bernie Nash, a Washington attorney.
"No, I don't," replied Bingaman turning on his heels. Fathers and Sons
Laxalt's party for his fellow Republican, Nevada freshman Sen. Chic Hecht, was serene and elegant. There wasn't a chicken wing in sight. Men in black suits served pasta salad and wine from gleaming crystal.
"I'm sure this is the best food," said former presidential adviser Lyn Nofziger, who vowed not to attend any other Hill parties. "I'm just waiting for Chic."
Sen. Jake Garn (R-Utah) also stopped by. He, too, had an index card and left promptly to follow its orders.
Hecht arrived with his 93-year-old dad, who immediately became more popular than the croissants stuffed with shrimp.
"I feel pretty much like I accomplished something today," said Louis Hecht in a deep voice. "Jacob went to Egypt all the way from Israel by camel to see his son. And I came from Las Vegas to see my son . . . . He was a ready-to-wear merchant and now he's U.S. senator. I feel wonderful."
He sat back and closed his eyes. --L.R. Earning Your Pinstripes
Trailed by well-wishers, Walter Mondale strode out the door of the party for Frank Lautenberg. He looked tired but sounded hearty.
"Frank's an old friend," said Mondale, walking down the Dirksen Senate Office Building corridor. "I campaigned for him."
And speaking of campaigns, Mr. Former Vice President . . .
"Ohhh, I had a good New Year's with the children," he began, "and . . . I feel good about it. But it's too early." (Mondale yesterday gave the official go-ahead for a campaign committee.)
It was too early for Lautenberg, as well. He was standing in the middle of the party surrounded by five scribbling reporters, who were asking questions about taxes and poor people and public shelters.
"What will be your first bill?" asked a reporter for a New Jersey paper.
Lautenberg said he didn't know.
"How long before your first bill?" asked the reporter.
"I've got to get out of this heady atmosphere," said Lautenberg, the man who beat the wry, witty Millicent Fenwick for the Senate seat. "I feel like I've been in the grand ball these past few weeks . . . I've got to get past these initial stages."
"How long will that take?" asked a reporter.
"Oh, I think I'll have it under control by tomorrow morning," said Lautenberg mock-soberly, before breaking into a weary chuckle and an "if only" grin.
"Let me at least say hi to the senator!" boomed former New Jersey governor Brendan Byrne while easing his way up to Lautenberg.
"Hi, Governor!" said the new senator. They quickly noted they had on almost identical pinstripe suits. "I've got the Brendan Byrne suit on," said Lautenberg.
Lautenberg's four children witnessed the swearing-in, for which the senator borrowed a Bible. (The family forgot to bring its own.) "You know, something borrowed, something blue . . . " he quipped.
It was the second time Lautenberg had taken the oath. The first was in Vail, Colo., a week ago, after Republican Nicholas Brady resigned early to give Lautenberg a jump on getting his office together and putting his staff on salary.
Yesterday, someone asked him in the middle of the hand-shaking if he were excited. "Oh, I think so," said Lautenberg with a smile. "Just because you see me three feet off the floor . . . " --Carla Hall Serenades and High Hopes
In Room 1302 of the Longworth Building, old-timer Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez (D-Tex.) grinned while flashbulbs popped and sombreroed newcomer Rep. Solomon P. Ortiz (D-Tex.) sang heartily with a group of serenading mariachis.
Ortiz was the star of the show at the Texans' post-swearing-in reception, though several other Texas statesmen, new and old, dotted the room. Two busloads of vivacious Ortiz supporters rode 36 hours from Corpus Christi to welcome him into Congress. With them, they brought Texas barbecue and tamales, 10-gallon hats, Lone Star beer and high hopes for a Democratic future.
"We even got talking about the presidential race," said San Antonian Leticia Cuellar about the long bus ride to Washington for the swearing-in. "We think, maybe, it will be Mondale."
Newly elected Rep. John Bryant (D-Tex.) wove through the crowd shaking hands, introducing his family and reflecting on the morning's ceremony on the House floor. "I began to realize that this year I am going to be making the legislation, and it is a little awesome."
Like many of his freshman classmates, Bryant was sorting out the day's events and his stance on the issues outlined by House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill (D-Mass.): unemployment and Social Security.
"Of course, Texas has a very diverse delegation," said Bryant, "but I am a mainstream Democrat and I imagine I will be very much in line with the speaker on unemployment and Social Security."
"I'm glad it's over," said Ann Andrews, wife of newly elected Rep. Mike Andrews (D-Tex.), as she prepared to leave. "It was a long, hard election." --Kathryn Buxton Friends for Dinner
Best known as the man who beat Jerry Brown, Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.) has already set himself apart from his new colleagues on The Hill. The drudgery of cheddar and crudite's receptions doesn't seem to be his style.
Last night, in the twinkling luxury of the Capitol Hill Club, Wilson hosted a dinner for 250 of his California chums. Over in the corner, during cocktails for all those who missed it, the swearing-in was being shown on a large screen for an instant replay. Or two. Or three. Or four.
Dinner was jumbo shrimp cocktail, followed by lemon sherbet in champagne glasses. There was also "Caesar Salad--no anchovies" and Veal Marie Antoinette. The meal was washed down with champagne and followed by brandied chocolate mousse.
"Oh, he was very excited but not nervous at all about this," explained Wilson's good friend Gail Graham. "It has been a very emotional last few days for him."
Graham, a wispy blond, says she will "eventually" move to Washington to be with Wilson. They have "no definite plans to marry."
"Obviously, we're good friends," she says "I'm looking and listening a lot. It's very scary to be a senator's wife . You need a life of your own."
Graham says a life of her own includes volunteer work, the Junior League and the theater.
"I'm a performer myself," she said. "Pete and I have sung together in amateur musical productions. I'd say the thing he likes to do the most is sit around the piano and sing."
When asked by an aide if he would pose with Graham for a picture, Wilson said no, he'd rather pose with his parents. And he did. --L.R. Jazz and Issues
Republicans in the Columbia Room of the Hyatt Regency gave a sedate welcome to their newest members. Everyone gathered around a cash bar, a buffet loaded with cheese and fresh fruit and a TV screen monitoring the House floor, while a jazz ensemble played in the background.
"I can tell you they don't call us survivors for nothing," said class president Rep. John McCain (R-Ariz.) calling the reception to order and inviting fellow newcomers--California Rep. Ron Packard, Tennessee Rep. Don Sundquist and Florida Reps. Connie Mack III, Tom Lewis and Michael Bilirakis--to join him at the podium.
"And our newest father," said McCain as he introduced Rep. Michael Dewine of Ohio, whose wife gave birth to a daughter last week.
Many of the Republicans voiced agreement that Social Security and unemployment are the big issues before them, but disagreed with solutions offered by their Democratic counterparts, who hold the majority in the House.
"You feel elated when you think of the work that needs to be done," said Bilirakis, "but frustrated at knowing you're alone." --K.B. Packing Them In
Outside the entrance to a first floor hearing room in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, Sen. Paul S. Trible Jr. (R-Va.) was greeting an endless line of guests. No sooner had a dozen guests presented their hands for shaking or cheeks for kissing and moved on, than another dozen replenished the line that trailed down the hallway.
Inside the room, on one end of the dark wood dais where senators usually preside, dirty coffee cups and saucers were stacked in rows. Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) was cornered behind the coffee cups by several people. Guests wedged slowly through the changing tide of several hundred people. There were, for example, campaign workers from places like Topping, Va., ("If you blink, you miss it," explained Bankie Nuckols); a cousin from Fairbanks, Alaska, ("I can't say I'm a Republican," said 27-year-old Mike Trible. "I'm kind of an independent voter."); and Maurice Dawkins, who organized Clergy for Trible. ("He combines conservative political philosophy with a strong civil rights background," said Dawkins.)
Former Virginia attorney general J. Marshall Coleman, a Republican who lost his bid for governor last year, was also there, wisecracking and keeping up his visibility. "He seems to have thus far done an excellent job as senator and I've heard no criticism of him and that will continue . . . uh . . . through the day," said Coleman, who was active in Trible's campaign.
"Have you noticed how on swearing-in day, the hearing rooms all seem to shrink?" asked Andy Wahlquist, Warner's administrative assistant. "They put Sen. Wilson in the largest hearing room and there's hardly anyone there."
Wahlquist stood idly by the dais, waiting for Warner. "I was running interference for my boss but he stopped," Wahlquist said to a friend.
"Looks like he got distracted," said the friend.
"All politicians get distracted," said Wahlquist calmly.
"This is an important day for me," Warner said when he arrived. "I form a new partnership." He shook some more hands and made his way to Trible, whom he had already been with during the day. They were just in time for a group photo with Strom Thurmond, who has been president pro tem of the Senate and who walked in with his wife, Nancy. The Thurmonds exchanged pleasantries and slipped out. "I just came by to say hi and welcome him," said Thurmond.
"As long as I've known Strom, he's gone to all the new senators' parties," said Nancy Thurmond.
"We try to be cooperative and work with them, whether they're Democrat or Republican," said Thurmond. "We try to be nice to them."
Trible held up just fine: "Well over 1,000 people have gone through these doors and I've shaken every hand," he said. "I've loved every minute of the day." --C.H. Scarce Tickets
Gallery passes for the swearing-in ceremony were harder to come by than tickets for the Redskins' playoff games. New members were only allowed three for their family and friends, and incumbents were allotted one. This made for some heavy horsetrading. Oldtimers who had obviously been through this before gave up their passes to some of their new colleagues. As nothing on The Hill is free, this will undoubtedly come out in a vote trade next week.
Rep. Ben Erdreich (D-Ala.), who arrived with his wife, two children, a brother- and sister-in-law, a mother, a stepfather and a stepsister, managed to get five extras from other members of the Alabama delegation. This was the only way to do it.
If you had children under 12, you were in luck. Once every two years, the House floor is turned into a nursery. Spouses stand in the gallery and two year olds have the run of the floor. Rep. Tom Downey (D-N.Y.) tracked down his daughter Lauren twice. She almost made it to the speaker's rostrum once. And Rep. Bill Emerson (R-Mo.) gave his baby a bottle while the House voted on its leadership posts. --L.R.