Sun bathed the patio outside Laurel Lodge at Camp David, Md., as the revelers at an unprecedented week-end retreat sat sipping coffee and chatting about how they can break the stalemate between the White House and Congress and make the government they run work.
Volleyball, swimming, tennis, jogging, bicycling and just plain walking had taken up most of Saturday morning. Now it was time for a little easy, off-the-cuff civics-at-the-top.
"Well, I just want to know what each of you are thinking about," Pressident Carter said softly, according to one who was there. He was in jeans and jogging shoes, and gathered around him were his wife, 11 House Democrats and their spouses, lounging in patio chairs or perched atop a low brick railing, some still in bathing suits and others in tennis shorts.
One by one, the members of Congress told him what was on their minds. For weeks, Carter had been tossing out sharp criticisms, aimed particularly at Democrats in the House who had dealt stinging setbacks to his efforts to win passage of energy legislation. And for weeks, the president had been taking it just as hard from some of the leading Democrats, including people like House Whip John Brademas of Indiana, who had criticized White House handling of the gas rationing plan but was nevertheless invited to weekend with the Carters at Camp David.
There would be no deals struck, no compromises reached - or even sought - at this social and business summit, according to those present. But free-flow discussion on both sides, they say, made the weekend a major sucess for both the president and the members of Congress.
Some talked specifics. Rep. Shirley Chisholm told Carter bluntly that the economic situation in her Brooklyn district was bad and the minority unemployment situation was worse.
When Carter noted how distressing it was to see the legislation implementing the Panama Canal treaties in trouble in the House, Rep. Frank Thompson (N.J.) interjected a congressional view.
"People in my district just don't feel it is important to them," said Thompson, who supports Carter on the canal bill. "They don't understand the importance of it." This basic lack of understanding back home is why members of Congress do not feel compelled to get behind the measure enthusiastically, Thompson said - and this theme of public education was one that dominated much of the talk on the patio at Camp David.
Members told Carter that because a large portion of the people in their districts do not believe there is a real energy shortage, it is no surprise that he is having a hard time finding congressional approval for an energy policy that will mean higher prices through oil decontrol.
In constructive and low-keyed tones, according to those there, the House Democrats told Carter he needed to play a greater role in educating the public on the true scope of the problem - and Carter told the members they had to do their part in educating the people in their districts.
At one point, a House Democrat told Carter how it was in 1964, when President Johnson and Congress had to work together behind the scenes to set a climate that would make possible the passage of the Civil Rights Act. First, they had to win public support through a coalition of church groups, community groups and organizations such as the League of Women Voters.
Carter said this is similar to what he had had to do to win the Senate passage of the Penama Canal treaties. But a member told him things are different in the House because the members respond much more to grassroots pressure.
The talk on the patio went on for an hour and a half, with spouses participating freely along with the members of Congress and the president. While they reached some specific conclusions, members said the talk will be known more for the basic general groundwork that was laid. "It's very difficult to legislate when there is no consensus on fact," said Brademas, "and this is something we all understand."
The weekend had begun at 4 p.m. Friday when two Marine helicopters carried the members of Congress and their spouses and the president and Rosalynn Carter and Amy to Camp David.
"I want to get my jeans on," Carter told his guests as he departed into his Aspen cabin with a wave. He told them that he also had some work he wanted to do and that he would see them at dinner.
The House Democrats went to their cabins - two couples to a cabin - and changed into casual clothes, and set out on their own to explore the wonders of the presidential retreat that Franklin D. Roosevelt had christened Shangri-La. "We just kind of cased the joint," said Thompson.
The visitors assembled for dinner at Laurel Cabin, sitting around three large tables and dining on fruit cup roast beef, salad - just woodlands basics. After dinner they had a choice of two movies, "Dear Inspector" and "Some Time Next Year."
Throughout the two days, Carter found time for private chats with each member and each spouse. He talked, for example, with Frank Thompson's wife Evie, about how you can cut catfish or bluefish intto strips, dip it in Worcestershire or A-1 sauce, then a Bisquik batter, and deep fry it for a "terrific snack."
The session broke up late Saturday afternoon. And those attending said they thought it was one of the most constructive times they had spent with the president. "Jimmy Carter is at his best in these type of settings," said Thompson. "It helps a great deal for people to get to know him like this. I think everyone left with a feeling they wanted to cooperate."
And John Brademas added: "I didn't feel like anyone was trying to lobby me. It was just a very helpful weekend. The chemistry of human relations is still very important - even in a system of separation of powers."