"This really is a great festive occasion," said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah). "We have Larry Brady, assistant secretary of commerce here tonight. We have Ed Hickey, assistant to the president, and we have one of my favorites in all of Washington--Anne Gorsuch Burford."
At the mention of Burford, about 200 guests in flashy finery stood in the Riverview Room of the Watergate Hotel, applauding the names and the conservatism they stand for.
Burford resigned as Environmental Protection Agency administrator in March after Congress intensified its investigations of charges of conflicts of interest, political favoritism and mismanagement. Last night she sat demurely, the dark blue ruffles of her high-collared dress framing her face.
Everyone had just said the Pledge of Allegiance, joined in the blessing of the meal, and eaten a $110-a-plate beef dinner. Coffee was served as various speakers began roasting John T. (Terry) Dolan, chairman of the National Conservative Political Action Committee. The dinner was given in his honor by the American Legal Foundation, a nonprofit, pro-free enterprise group dedicated to fighting "media bias."
Burford rivaled Dolan in drawing the guests' attention, but seemed reluctant to chat at length with anyone. Burford said the main reason she had come was that she's "been friends and political allies with Maiselle Terry Dolan's sister for a long time."
Hatch, as master of ceremonies, also introduced Burford's husband, Robert, director of the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management.
"If anyone can get to the right of Jim Watt, I can," Robert Burford responded to Hatch.
"I think Terry Dolan can," Hatch rejoined.
Hatch then gave Sen. Steve Symms (R-Idaho) his turn to roast Dolan. But Symms couldn't resist Burford.
"Bob and Anne," Symms said, "it's great to have you here. You know, I wanted to announce that the Legal Foundation was going to pick up your legal fees, but we're still trying to get the White House to do it." The crowd laughed. "Takes a thousand cows to pay those legal fees, doesn't it?" Symms said.
Next up at bat for the roasters was Ed Rollins, presidential assistant for political affairs.
"Terry, there's something to be said about Ronald Reagan winning 50.7 percent of the vote with $1.9 million from NCPAC that you raised for the campaign," Rollins said. "Of course, if you'd stayed out of it, he would have had 55 percent."
Richard Williamson, assistant to the president for intergovernmental affairs, then took the podium.
"I was noting during dinner, as I sat with old friends, that I have not been at a meeting where there's been such a commitment to conservatism," Williamson said. "Especially not in the West Wing. The only place in the West Wing you'll find such a commitment is if you meet one-on-one with the president."
Hatch then made a short pitch to the audience to lobby their congressmen on behalf of the conservative cause.
"I think we're on the verge of really losing what we've built the last few years," Hatch said. "Conservatives are not sticking together on the Hill . . . A lot of them have the feeling they've got to agitate the president to get his ear. Take time to call your congressman . . . Terry lets us know how he feels and he doesn't mince any words in the process . . . He's our kind of moderate."
Hatch gave Dolan an award from the foundation for "political courage and inner strength for fighting against media bias."
Dolan then took the podium. "I put this suit on tonight and found a button in my pocket. I'll let the people in the front read it out." He held the button up to a table close to him. Those who could read it laughed.
"The button says 'Think About George Bush,' " Dolan said. "I thought when I saw it, 'By God, I must have been drunk the last time I wore this.' "
Dolan went on non-stop, the crowd loving it. He told the media table that what he was about to say was "in fact a joke. Kind of like electing Mickey Mouse president," Dolan said. "It was reported I once called George McGovern a grossly over-educated SOB," Dolan said. "I've never called him educated."
Ending on a more serious tone, Dolan thanked the crowd and said, "A conservative once said, 'God is on our side.' I agree with that."
But everyone agreed with Hatch when he said: "John Terrence Dolan is a patriot. He's an exemplary leader. God bless him and keep him."