Clinton and Democrats to gather in St. Mary's

January 26, 1994|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- With his State of the Union address out of the way, President Clinton will slip down to St. Mary's County tomorrow for a private schmooze with House Democrats on how to get his legislative priorities passed.

Mr. Clinton's after-dinner speech and question-and-answer session will highlight a two-day retreat of more than 150 Democratic House members and their spouses at the Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship at Paul Hall Center in Piney Point.

About 110 House Republicans and their spouses will be meeting simultaneously at Salisbury State University, closeted in tactics and strategy sessions so exclusive that not even their aides have been invited.

At the Democratic conference, panel sessions tomorrow afternoon and Friday morning will be open to press coverage, including live TV broadcasts. But reporters have been entirely shut out of the hall for Mr. Clinton's appearance.

"It was the White House option," said Maryland Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus and leading host of the Piney Point event. "The president wanted to be able to have some give-and-take with members in a private setting."

The gathering will hardly be intimate. In addition to the spouses, at least four Cabinet secretaries, a half dozen other top administration officials and scores of political consultants and aides will be present.

"We closed it because the president is going to be participating in a working session on his priorities," said Ginny Terzano, a deputy White House press secretary. "The intensity of the session is the reason that decision was made."

Democratic House members are hoping, according to a party caucus spokesman, that the absence of television cameras will at least ensure that Mr. Clinton will not repeat his State of the Union address.

Caucus spokesman Jay Toscano said some members are also hoping that Mr. Clinton, who is scheduled to arrive at 7:30 p.m. and begin speaking at about 8:45 p.m., will linger longer if no reporters are present.

Mr. Hoyer said he would be willing to open the event to reporters after Mr. Clinton leaves, when the lawmakers are scheduled to have karaoke singing with a disc jockey.

Reporters have traditionally been included in most of the meetings and all of the social functions at the House Democratic retreats, with mixed results for the lawmakers.

The retreats used to be financed almost exclusively by lobbyists, who went along to spend time with the lawmakers at posh resorts, such as the Greenbriar in West Virginia.

News accounts of the last such outing in 1989, which took place during a period of high taxpayer outrage over a pending congressional pay increase, were so bruising that the outings were dramatically scaled down and lobbyists excluded.

This is the second time Mr. Hoyer's new home county of St. Mary's has been chosen for the annual event, which is now entirely financed by the lawmakers who will pay $350 each.

House Republicans, who received some criticism last year for attending a lobbyist-financed gathering near Princeton, N.J., have adopted an even more Spartan approach this year.

Each GOP lawmaker is being assessed $100 to cover meals and two night's lodging in dorm rooms on the college campus, according to Ed Gillespie, a spokesman for the House Republican conference.

Reporters will be barred.

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