Marzipan Tidbits, Yes; News Tidbits, No

For Hillary Rodham Clinton, yesterday's press tour of the White House Christmas decorations was rife with "double meaning"--or, as pastry chef Roland Mesnier might put it, double-entendre. The first lady explained that the decorative theme, "Holiday Treasures," signifies both the gilt-edged treasures on display around the White House and America's cultural treasures and architectural landmarks. Thus, in the State Dining Room, Clinton and Mesnier showed off his 200-pound gingerbread, chocolate and marzipan confection depicting the White House, the Jefferson Memorial, the Washington Monument and Mount Vernon.

But we thought yesterday's real double meaning was to be found in the unwieldy scrum of 80-odd camera-toting and inked-stained wretches--a crowd without precedent--who were amassed around Clinton like Adirondack black flies, hoping to suck out news about her perpetually impending Senate race. Asked by the buzzing horde if this would be her last Christmas at the White House, Clinton avoided a direct answer. "We will certainly be here for Christmas, and I'm looking forward to having our entire family and many guests and friends for the Christmas holidays," she said.

She was more responsive on the progress of her move to the $1.7 million house in Chappaqua, N.Y. "Yes, I'm working on that. The Secret Service is moving forward . . . and we're pulling things out of storage and deciding what has to be recovered and reupholstered and looking to begin moving things in later this month. I'm mostly trying to use what I have. I may have to buy some things."

With a smile as hard as rock candy, Clinton cut off further interrogation and motioned to a group of costumed schoolchildren from Louisville. "I know now that our chorus wants to sing. They've been waiting."

The scrum will have to wait a little longer.

Gridiron Grins

Long-shot Republican presidential candidate Orrin Hatch, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was the unexpected star of Saturday night's Gridiron Club winter dinner at the Capital Hilton. And power broker Vernon Jordan, speaking for the Democrats, displayed his knack for knife-edged humor. The Post's David S. Broder reports that Hatch laughed to the point of tears at his own jokes, to wit: "I have a reputation for being strait-laced, but actually I come from a very tough state. In Utah--you think it's easy raising money from people who are all sober?" Calling Steve Forbes "the human metronome," Hatch said his GOP rival "has done more to promote the social acceptance of human robotics than any person I know." George W. Bush and John McCain get all the publicity, Hatch complained, "but Gary Bauer and I have to stand on the sidewalk outside the 'Today' show with a sign, 'Hi, Katie!' "

Jordan made a not-too-veiled reference to his efforts before the Monica Lewinsky scandal exploded to find a job for President Clinton's fling partner: "I purposely haven't mentioned anything about the Senate race in New York. I'm praying, of course, that Hillary will win. If she doesn't--Lord, I'll have to call Revlon again."


* We fervently believe presidential pal Terry McAuliffe deserved at least an expensive dinner after coughing up $1.3 million of his own money for collateral on the Clintons' dicey mortgage. But McAuliffe tells Vanity Fair that after he came to the rescue, during the Clintons' New York vacation, the president asked him to get pizza. McAuliffe's response: "What do you want on it, Mr. President?"

* The Kennedy Center Honors revels continued into yesterday's wee hours with honoree Stevie Wonder, singer Diane Schuur and pianist Herbie Hancock staging an impromptu jam session in the lobby. Wonder and Schuur began with a blues duet, then moved on to a string of Wonder's hits, reports The Post's Roxanne Roberts. Jazz fans went crazy when Wonder and Hancock tried to out-riff each other on the piano. But the high point was Schuur's giggling attempt at "Overjoyed."

* The Invasion of the Pod Person is in a state of metamorphosis at the New York Post. Editorial Page Editor John Podhoretz yesterday told The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz that he's stepping down after two years to write a column. Podhoretz--who this summer penned a "humor" piece (spiked after the first edition) depicting Joe Kennedy as the Devil who killed his grandson JFK Jr.--insists he's not being shoved aside; he's just a victim of "burnout."

* Brit dramatist Tom Stoppard was in the Sunday matinee audience of the Studio Theatre's production of his hit play "Indian Ink," and took a standing-O bow after director Joy Zinoman called him to the stage.

* More Celebrity Tip Challenge News: Olympic track star Carl Lewis was a mere guest Saturday night at the Wendy Marx Organ Donor Awareness Foundation party at the downtown California Pizza Kitchen, yet he dropped $300 cash on the wait staff. Did Morgan Freeman, treating a party of 10 Saturday at Taberna del Alabardero, eat Lewis's dust by tipping 15 percent?