Press Shines at Congressional Dinner

A full report from last night’s Washington Press Club Foundation Congressional Dinner is after the jump.


Above: MSNBC’s Tammy Haddad mugs while Miss America 2006 Jennifer Berry presents her with the famed tiara.

Prom season is well under way. And don’t let it be said that last night’s Washington Press Club Foundation 62nd Annual Congressional Dinner was all fun and games: A woman’s hair caught on fire when she ventured too close to a candle set up on the open bar, and, of course, the whole Senate evacuation thing had people buzzing through the dinner, comparing blackberry breaking news alert. “Oh ABC 7 says it’s a nerve agent!” “Roll Call says there are five senators under quarantine.”

As these press club dinners tend to be, the event was a near who’s who of D.C. media–although with many fewer TV big-wigs than some of the dinners later in the season will attract. Last night brought together everyone from New York Times bureau chief Philip Taubman to a host of Posties from Donald Graham down to “hot just a” beat reporters like Jim VandeHei. The head table ran from the Washington Times’ Charlie Hurt on the one end to Jonathan Salant of the National Press Club on the other, with a little bit of Andrea Mitchell and Club Foundation President Rebecca Carr thrown in between. Others present: Adam Nagourney, Joe Scarborough, Bill Press, Ron Brownstein, Bill Adair, Liz Halloran, gossips Roxanne Roberts, John McCaslin, Stephanie Mansfield, Mary Ann Akers, and Jeff Dufour, and even new Wonkette-in-town David Lat. A good number of congressional luminaries, both electeds and staffers, dotted the crowd including Roy Blunt, Jack Reid, Charlie Rangel, and star staffers like the speaker’s communications director Ron Bonjean.

Outside the event, Hardball’s David Shuster was set up in the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton in the West End, interviewing big wigs as they came in for a special on the troops MSNBC is airing today. Upstairs, Fran Drescher wandered back into the lobby after walking her small poof dog around the block.

Dinner was a bibb and endive salad, followed by beef short ribs, pan-seared sea bass, and sweet potato mousseline, and dessert was a mango cheesecake with coconut whipped cream.

The dinner of some 500ish people was loud and social as usual, although far from the racous scene of some of the larger press dinners. The dinner attracted only a few stars–more or less all of them invited by CQ, the Nanny, Miss America 2006, Joey Pantoliano of the Sopranos, and a few other actors like press club dinner standby Ron Silver. Jennifer Berry, Miss America 2006, was sandwiched between John McLaughlin–who actually talked with her about her signature issue, drunken driving–and the Afghan Ambassador. Sitting at her table too was Joey Pants, resplendent in a pink tie and beret.

As the dinner program got underway, there was a moving tribute and Cox-provided video montage to the Post’s Helen Dewar, a recently retired star Senate reporter who is now battling breast cancer. She was awarded the Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award, but was too ill to accept in person so Graham and another editor stepped in.

Adam Clymer gave a brief memorial to David Rosenbaum, and then awards went to Susan Schmidt, James V. Grimaldi and R. Jeffrey Smith won the Bingham Prize for their Jack Abramoff articles. St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Deirdre Shesgreen received the David Lynch Memorial Reporting Award for her reporting on lobbyists too.

Guests also sat through a moderately amusing speech by Arlen Specter and an interminable one by Steny Hoyer. Andrea Mitchell, the emcee for the night, cracked a few jokes about having her Fed Chair husband at home now that he’s retired. (The Post has more humor details, as does Wonkette.)

Then thankfully after a “short as these things go” two-and-a-half hours, the dinner wound down and those trendy guests headed across the hall to the CQ’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz” afterparty with the Creative Coalition.