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  The ABC's of the A-List
How People Wind Up With an Invitation to the White House

    Zhu, Clinton and Ma
Chinese Premiere Zhu Rongji, left, and President Clinton greet cellist Yo Yo Ma as he arrives for the April 9 dinner.
(By Juana Arias – The Washington Post)
By Roxanne Roberts
and David Montgomery

Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, April 14, 1999; Page C1

Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji and President Clinton stood in the receiving line, pumping hands and beaming as they greeted guests at last week's official White House dinner. The men and women were dressed to the nines and looked very pleased to be there. But how did these folks get invited to this shindig?

Good question. Even some of the guests aren't sure.

"I got this invitation two weeks ago, and I have yet to find out why," said Ya-Yue J. Van, president of Molecular Kinetics. "I'm just a small businesswoman from the state of Washington."

Still, she could guess some of the reasons: She's Chinese American. She's treasurer of the Chinese Biophysics Society of America and vice chairman of the Washington State Democratic Party. "But there are other Chinese American vice chairmen," says Van. "Why me?" Actually, Van has the perfect mix of characteristics for a White House dinner guest: ethnic connection, mid-level party activism and an interesting résumé.

The origin of the guest list for a state or other official dinner is one of Powertown's little mysteries, and the White House likes to keep it that way. Every guest list includes those with political and business interests in the country being honored, and last week's dinner for 224 was filled with corporate leaders and China policy specialists. There's usually a smattering of celebrities, political donors and media types. But many invitees say they were mystified – though delighted – about being chosen.

"I don't know," admitted D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a guest at Thursday's dinner who last attended a function like this during the Carter administration. "They don't send out a little card of explanation."

Yeni Wong, who developed the corner of Seventh and H streets NW in the heart of Washington's Chinatown, last saw the president when the First Family dropped by her Golden Palace restaurant at Christmastime.

"Maybe the president liked my restaurant's food very much and he wants me to invite him back, so he invited me to dinner first," joked Wong, who was seated next to Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan. The fact that Wong regularly attends functions of the Women's Leadership Forum, an arm of the Democratic National Committee, may also have been a factor.

The Guest List
Guests at the dinner for Zhu Rongji:
Zhu Rongji, premier of the state council of the People's Republic of China, and Lao An
Wu Yi, state councillor
Wang Zhongyu, secretary-general of the state council
Tang Jiaxuan, minister of foreign affairs
Zeng Peiyan, chairman of the state development and planning commission
Shi Gaungsheng, minister of foreign trade and economic cooperation
Liu Huaqiu, special assistant to Premier Zhu Rongji
Gui Shiyong, director of the research office of the state council
Li Zhaoxing, ambassador of the People's Republic of China to the United States, and Qin Xiaomei
Ma Kai, deputy secretary-general of the state council
Yang Jiechi, vice minister of foreign affairs
Long Yongtu, chief negotiator of the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation
Li Wei, director of Premier Zhu Rongji's office
Zhang Yesui, director-general, protocol department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Madeleine K. Albright, secretary of state
Donald H. Argue, president of Northwest College, and Richard Cizik, director of government affairs, National Association of Evangelicals
Michael H. Armacost, president of the Brookings Institution, and Roberta Armacost
Elizabeth Frawley Bagley, former ambassador to Portugal, and Smith W. Bagley
Robert W. Barrie, senior government relations adviser, O'Connor & Hannan, LLP
Charlene Barshefsky, U.S. trade representative
Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mo.)
Rep. Douglas Bereuter (R-Neb.), and Louise Bereuter
Samuel R. Berger, assistant to the president for national security affairs, and Susan Berger
Rep. Frederick C. Boucher (D-Va.), and Wendy Cronin
Edgar Bronfman Jr., president and CEO, Joseph E. Seagram and Sons Inc.
Harold Brown, counselor, Center for Strategic and International Studies, and Colene Brown
Shelby Bryan, president and CEO, ICG Communications, and Katherine Bryan
Zbigniew Brzezinski, counselor, Center for Strategic and International Studies, and Emilie-Anna Brzezinski
Ronald W. Burkle, managing partner, Yucaipa Cos., and Janet Burkle
Phillip Burnett, executive vice president, National Cotton Council, and Margaret Burnett
Stephen M. Case, chairman and CEO, America Online, and Jean Case
David Chang, senior adviser, Panacom Inc., and Audrey Yu, vice president, Panacom Inc.
Edwin Chen, White House correspondent, The Los Angeles Times, and Meredith Chen
Joan Chen, filmmaker, and Peter Hui, physician
H. D. Cleberg, president and CEO, Farmland Industries Inc., and Clara Cleberg
Barber Conable, president, National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, and Charlotte Conable
Philip Condit, chairman, president and CEO, Boeing Co., and Geda Maso
Gregory B. Craig, partner, Williams and Connolly, and Derry Craig, Derry Noyes Graphics
Douglas N. Daft, president, Far East Group, Coca-Cola Co.
William M. Daley, secretary, Department of Commerce
John H. Dasburg, president and CEO, Northwest Airlines, and Mary Lou Dasburg
Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Deborah Dingell, president, General Motors Foundation
George M.C. Fisher, chairman and CEO, Eastman Kodak Co., and Ann Fisher
William Clay Ford Jr., chairman of the board, Ford Motor Co., and Lisa Ford
Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Sergio Pombo
Mary Mel French, chief of protocol of the United States
Felice Gaer, director, Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement for Human Rights, and Henryk Baran, professor of Russian, University of Albany, State University of New York
Chris Calvin, CEO, Motorola, and Cindy Galvin
Robert W. Gee, acting assistant secretary for fossil energy and assistant secretary of policy and international affairs, Department of Energy, and Pauline Gee
Rep. Samuel Gejdenson (D-Conn.) and Betsy Henley-Cohn, chairwoman, Birmingham Utilities
Louis V. Gerstner Jr., chairman and CEO, IBM Corp., and Robin Gerstner
Paul Gerwitz, professor of constitutional law, Yale Law School, and Zoe Baird, president, Markle Foundation
Jack Gherty, president and CEO, Land O'Lakes Inc.
Lukin T. Gilliland Jr., restaurateur, and Kimberly Cubine, vice president, Malchow, Adams & Hussey
Sue Ling Gin, chairman and CEO, Flying Food Group, and Lee Sands, chairman, international trade practice, Mayer, Brown and Platt
Daniel R. Glickman, secretary, Department of Agriculture, and Loretta Glickman, deputy chief of staff to the secretary of housing and urban development
James E. Goodwin, president and COO, United Airlines, and Ann Goodwin
The Rev. Billy Graham and Ruth Graham
Maurice R. Greenberg, chairman and CEO, American International Group, and Corinne Greenberg
Alan Greenspan, chairman, Federal Reserve System, and Andrea Mitchell, chief foreign affairs correspondent, NBC
Ruth R. Harkin, senior vice president of international affairs and government relations and chair, United Technologies, and George David, chairman, president and CEO, United Technologies
Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-Fla.), and Cathy Hughes, owner and chair, Radio One
David D. Ho, director, Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center, and Susan Kuo Ho
Richard Holbrooke, vice chairman, Credit Suisse First Boston, and Kati Marton, author
Robert D. Hormats, vice chairman, Goldman Sachs International, and Judith Paulus, director of civic and international affairs, Sara Lee Corp.
Richard L. Huber, chairman, president and CEO, Aetna Inc., and Roberta Huber
J. Bennet Johnston, partner, Johnston & Associates, LLC and partner, Johnston Development Co., LLC, and Mary Johnston
Patty Judge, Iowa secretary of agriculture, and John Judge, state senator, Iowa
Mickey Kantor, partner, Mayer Brown and Platt, and Heidi Schulman, member, board of directors, Corporation for Public Broadcasting
James P. Kelly, chairman and CEO, United Parcel Service, and Jean Kelly
Mark Knoller, correspondent, CBS News, and Janet Leissner, vice president and Washington bureau chief, CBS News
Michelle Kwan, U.S. figure skating champion, and Shepard Goldberg, agent and manager for Kwan
David P. Lambert, senior vice president, public affairs, New York Stock Exchange, and Diana C. Lambert
Nicholas Lardy, senior fellow, foreign political studies, Brookings Institution, and Barbara Lardy, director of medical affairs, American Association of Health Plans
Harry Lee, sheriff, Jefferson Parish, La., and Lai Lee
Thomas H. Lee, president, Thomas H. Lee Co., and Ann G. Tenenbaum
Star Lerach, and Jonathan W. Cuneo, principal, the Cuneo Law Group
Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), and Victoria Levin
Arthur Levitt, chairman, Securities Exchange Commission, and Marylin Levitt
Kenneth G. Lieberthal, senior director, Asian affairs, National Security Council, and Jane Lieberthal
Vincent Lupinacci, president and CEO, Sunkist Growers Inc., and Norwood Lupinacci
Yo-Yo Ma, cellist, and Jill A. Hornor
Wu Man, pipa soloist
Rep. Robert Matsui (R-Calif.), and Doris Matsui, director of government relations and public policy, Collier, Shannon, Scott and Rill
Patrick J. McGovern, chairman of the board, International Data Group, and Lore McGovern
Ernset S. Micek, chairman and CEO, Cargill Inc., and Sally Micek
Herbert S. Miller, chairman, Western Development Corp. and American Malls International, and Patrice Miller
Leo F. Mullin, president, Delta Air Lines, and Leah Mullin
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and John Norton
Michel Oksenberg, Stanford University Asia Pacific Research Center, and Lois Oksenberg
William J. Perry, Stanford University International Relations Department, and Robin Allen, editor, Early Music America magazine
John D. Podesta, chief of staff to the president, and Mary Podesta
William Richardson, secretary of energy, and Barbara Richardson
Sanford Robertson, president, S.R. Robertson & Co., and Jeanne Robertson
Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) and Sharon Rockefeller, CEO, WETA
Hilary Rosen, president, Recording Industry Association of America
Stanley Roth, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, and Mara Rudman, House International Relations Committee
James R. Sasser, ambassador to the People's Republic of China, and Mary Sasser
Orville Schell, dean, University of California, Berkeley, Graduate School of Journalism, and Baifang Liu, PBS-"Frontline" producer
Arthur Schneier, president, Appeal of Conscience Foundation, and Elisabeth Schneier
Katharine Seelye, New York Times White House correspondent, and David E. Sanger, New York Times Washington correspondent
Henry H. Shelton, chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Carolyn Shelton
Bright Sheng, composer
Frederick W. Smith, chairman, FDX Corp., and Diane Smith
John F. Smith Jr., chairman, General Motors Corp., and Lydia Smith
James Steinberg, deputy assistant to the president for national security affairs, and Sherburne Abbott, executive director, National Academy of Sciences Board on Unsustainable Development
Sy Sternberg, president, New York Life Insurance Co., and Laurette Sternberg
Lawrence Summers, deputy treasury secretary, and Victoria Summers
S. Donald Sussman, CEO, Paloma Partners Management Co., and Michele McGovern
Amy Tan, author, and Lou DeMattei, tax attorney
Yuan Yuan Tan, dancer, and Clay Fok
Henry Tang, chairman, Committee of 100, and Alice Young, director, Committee of 100
Christina Tchen, partner, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, and Charles F. Smith, partner, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom
Chang-Lin Tien, professor, University of California, Berkeley, and Di-Hwa Tien
Karen Tumulty, Time magazine White House correspondent, and Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times Pentagon correspondent
Lyn Utrecht, partner, Ryan, Phillips, Utrecht & MacKinnon, and Barry Weinberg, deputy chief, Department of Justice
Jack Valenti, CEO, Motion Picture Association of America, and Mary Margaret Valenti
Ya-Yue J. Van, president, Molecular Kinetics
James D. Wolfensohn, president, World Bank, and Elaine Wolfensohn
Sara Wolfensohn, pianist
Yeni Wong, chair, Riverdale International Holding, and Glenn Golonka
Rep. David Wu (D-Ore.) and Michelle Wu
Janet Yellen, chair, Council of Economic Advisers, and George Akerlof, professor, University of California, Berkeley
Wong's escort to the dinner, Glenn Golonka, said one couple confessed they were so curious about their invitation that they called the White House social office and were told, "We're not allowed to tell you that."

The White House never talks publicly about specific names on any given list. But the selection process, says White House Social Secretary Capricia Marshall, is a complicated group effort.

It involves the White House, State Department and National Security Council. Every guest list begins with a meeting of 15 to 20 people who bring suggestions to the table. State's office of protocol represents the visiting country at the meeting, and there are representatives from the White House offices of legislative affairs, Cabinet affairs and others. "We get all the input we possibly can," Marshall says. "A person is put under consideration, then the entire room talks about all the guests proposed."

There are no automatic allotments. "The only number we set in stone is the official delegation [accompanying the visiting head of state], which is 14 people," Marshall says. DNC spokesman Rick Hess said that, contrary to assumptions, the Democratic Party does not have reserved slots. "From time to time we recommend people for consideration, as some other groups and organizations do," he says. "That doesn't guarantee they get on the [guest] list."

The only standing reservations are for the president and first lady, Vice President Gore, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, chief of protocol Mary Mel French, national security adviser Sandy Berger, and both countries' ambassadors.

Cabinet secretaries are invited when it "makes sense," Marshall says. The China list included Commerce Secretary William Daley, Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman and Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, who is handling allegations of Chinese spying in U.S. nuclear facilities. U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky, Greenspan, White House Chief of Staff John Podesta and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Henry Shelton also made the cut.

Which left precious few spaces to divide among a long list of names. Every invited guest is allowed to bring an escort, and 240 people is the maximum number who can squeeze into the East Room. Which leaves about 100 invitations that need to reflect political, business and cultural interests.

"A good list is where the visiting head of state says, 'Thank you for introducing me to these people,' " Marshall says.

The guests, of course, find it useful to be introduced, too. The White House hosted a state dinner for Chinese President Jiang Zemin just 18 months ago that highlighted trade by including some of the biggest names in American business. No fewer than 30 corporate presidents, chairmen and CEOs were invited, including the heads of Disney, Apple, Boeing, Motorola, Xerox, Atlantic Richfield, United Technologies, PepsiCo, Time Warner, Mobil and Procter & Gamble.

Last week's dinner included a few repeats: Boeing's Philip Condit, Motorola's Chris Galvin, Eastman Kodak's George Fisher, Cargill's Ernest Micek, General Motors' Jack Smith Jr., former commerce secretary Mickey Kantor, AIDS researcher David Ho, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, author Amy Tan and religious freedom activist Donald Argue.

Insurance mogul Maurice Greenberg, chairman of American International Group, was the guest Zhu seemed most pleased to see. The premier wrapped Greenberg, who also attended the dinner honoring Zemin, in a warm bear hug.

A spokesman for Greenberg declined to comment on the friendship. But it is no secret that American insurance companies are eager to conquer the Chinese market, and Greenberg's AIG has been one of the leaders. By 1995, within two years of selling policies, the company had more than 2,000 sales agents and had issued more than 200,000 policies in Shanghai.

Did we say Shanghai? That's where Zhu used to be mayor. Greenberg began visiting key Chinese leaders in the 1970s and founded an international business advisory council in Shanghai for Zhu. As Zhu advanced to become China's main economic policy maker, Greenberg's contacts helped his company gain the first foreign insurance license granted by the Chinese government in more than 40 years.

So perhaps it is not altogether unexpected to find Aetna Chairman Richard Huber and New York Life Insurance President Sy Sternberg on last week's dinner list. Or the heads of Ford, Land O'Lakes, Sunkist and IBM. Or Motion Picture Association of America head Jack Valenti, who met with Zhu in China to talk about importing U.S. movies and found himself on the list at the request of the Chinese.

Local developer Herbert Miller, who developed Georgetown Park and Washington Harbour and is a generous Democratic contributor, thinks he was invited because he's hoping to build a mall in China someday. Not that anyone talked about that at dinner. "It was a social occasion," Miller said. "I don't think anyone discussed any business."

But all the talk of trade and "engagement" ruffled feathers after the 1997 China dinner. Critics said the White House had excluded proponents of human rights issues and serious policy. So last week's guest list included another side: Felice Gaer, director of the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement for Human Rights, Brookings Institution President Michael Armacost, Harold Brown and Zbigniew Brzezinski of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Barber Conable of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, Bill Perry of Stanford University's international relations department, and Arthur Schneier, president of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation.

There are always a few familiar faces from Capitol Hill – some with specific ties to the country in question, some not. Thursday's list included Reps. David Wu (D-Ore.), the only Chinese American representative; Douglas Bereuter (R-Neb.), chairman of the House subcommittee on Asia; Frederick Boucher (D-Va.); John Dingell (D-Mich.); Sander Levin (D-Mich.); and Robert Matsui (R-Calif.). Former Louisiana senator J. Bennett Johnston, now a lobbyist from New Orleans, was on hand to chat about energy.

A few were invited as a thank-you, of sorts. "I think over the past few months I have not been entirely in disfavor with the president," said Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who loudly defended Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), who knows a thing or two about impeachment, was also a guest, along with presidential lawyer Greg Craig.

The guest list also included such generous Democratic campaign contributors as Shelby Bryan, president and CEO of ICG Communications, and Ronald Burkle, managing partner of the Yucaipa Cos.

And the White House always throws a bone to reporters who follow the president, which accounted for guests from the media: Los Angeles Times White House correspondent Edwin Chen, CBS News correspondent Mark Knoller, New York Times White House correspondent Katharine Seelye and Time magazine White House correspondent Karen Tumulty.

"It was kind of like they took a Chinese community and an American community and put them together to see how they'd do," said Golonka. "It was beautiful."

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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