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White House Xmas Party for Lawmakers Goes Late, Gets Rowdy

Rep. Darlene Hooley of Oregon finally finds her district's special ornament hanging on the White House Christmas tree, and is last to leave President and Mrs. Bush's holiday party for members of Congress. (Photo courtesy of Susan Miles)

Last night's White House Christmas party for members of Congress dragged on way past President Bush's bedtime, thanks to Rep. Darlene Hooley (D-Oregon), who broke a cardinal rule of etiquette.

Don't tell Miss Manners, but Hooley was the last guest to leave the party.

"Congresswoman Hooley, her friend Susan Miles and daughter Jen were having such a joyous celebration, talking, dancing and taking in the festive decor that they just lost track of time," explains Hooley spokeswoman Joan Evans. "Before they knew it, they looked around and discovered everyone else was gone."

Everyone else except White House security, that is.

"The guards very kindly helped them locate their coats and escorted them to the gates, which clanked behind them," Evans says.

Just as it was the last ever congressional Christmas party for the lame-duck president, so too was it the last hurrah at the White House for Hooley. She's retiring next month when her term expires.

While Hooley says the staff was gracious about her lengthy exit, it sounds as if White House ushers weren't as patient with another lingering member of Congress: Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), who was determined - no matter how late it got - to track down an ornament one of his constituents painted for the White House Christmas tree.

Just as Cohen was getting warm in his hunt for the ornament in the Blue Room of the White House, where the official tree stands, he says an usher with a "very rude" tone declared, "This room is closed!"

But it didn't look closed; there were other members of Congress milling about the room, according to Cohen and Hooley. Cohen explained to the usher that he was looking for an ornament painted for the White House Christmas tree by one of his constituents in Memphis. Hooley was doing the same. (Both lawmakers wound up finding their respective ornaments, you'll be pleased to know.)

The usher didn't seem to care about the ornament search as the time neared 11 p.m.

"It was like he was a bouncer and it was last call," Cohen tells the Sleuth. The congressman says he found the usher to be "haughty, arrogant, controlling and rude."

"I was really taken aback that this was happening in the White House," Cohen said. Especially given that the president and first lady Laura Bush were, as Cohen describes them, "so cordial, warm and friendly."

Cohen was so miffed at the usher he asked him for his name. Daniel Shanks, came the reply.

Shanks, according to this story in the Wine News magazine, was hired in 1995 to serve as the White House's assistant usher. He was formerly manager of Napa Valley's Domaine Chandon.

Cohen wasn't impressed. "I guess he's much better with grapes than he is with people," the congressman said.

The White House is steadfastly defending Shanks against Cohen's charges.

Sally McDonough, chief spokeswoman for the first lady, says, "Our ushers are known for being more than gracious to President and Mrs. Bush's guests. And we regret if there is a perception of anything less than that. There is a point when an event is over and we have to start closing the rooms."

McDonough also sought to point out that the White House's "ornament program" was a huge success this year, with more than 370 members of Congress participating. In other words, those White House ushers had their hands full helping lawmakers find those ornaments.

Note to Mrs. Obama: If you don't want your first White House Christmas party next year getting out of hand and going too late, you might look for an alternative to the ornament program.

By Mary Ann Akers  |  December 9, 2008; 1:44 PM ET
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If they want these folks to leave on time, they might want to not serve wine.

Posted by: MikeK3 | December 9, 2008 5:32 PM | Report abuse

Rep. Cohen does not seem to understand party etiquette. When the party is over, its time to GO! Dumping on the usher is like pulling rank and is very crude. He would have shown much more class had he accepted the ushers remark, made his apology for losing track of time, and graciously made his exit.

Posted by: westcan46 | December 10, 2008 10:19 AM | Report abuse

Where was the offending usher when it was time for Rep. Hooley to get the bum's rush? Perhaps keeping an eye on Larry Craig in the White House bathroom, ya think?

Posted by: rocks18 | December 10, 2008 10:20 AM | Report abuse

Haha, the Larry Craig bit is SOO funny. /sarc

Truly, these twits deserved to be tossed out on their behinds. Asking for the usher's name? Give me a freakin' break. That's like asking a cop for his name as he gives you a VERBAL WARNING for speeding. You're already winning, dou**e, so just shut up and get the heck out.

Posted by: MsUnderestimated | December 10, 2008 3:37 PM | Report abuse

Haha, the Larry Craig bit is SOO funny. /sarc

Truly, these twits deserved to be tossed out on their behinds. Asking for the usher's name? Give me a freakin' break. That's like asking a cop for his name as he gives you a VERBAL WARNING for speeding. You're already winning, dou**e, so just shut up and get the heck out.

Posted by: MsUnderestimated | December 10, 2008 3:38 PM | Report abuse

Are you telling us that the Bush White House hired a chardonnay sipping wine snob to work as an usher for our good ol boy President?? It's good this didn't come out earlier.

Posted by: thebobbob | December 10, 2008 4:43 PM | Report abuse

Why wouldn't Hooley be such a riot! This will be her last effort to celebrate at the White House as she is leaving Congress at the end of this session.

Posted by: kb7psn | December 10, 2008 6:55 PM | Report abuse

McLean, Virginia -- Only a Republican could be so gauche. Thank God they will be gone in a few weeks.

Paul Matthews

Posted by: matthewsp1 | December 10, 2008 7:10 PM | Report abuse

As the artist who created the ornament for Congresswoman Hooley's 5th District in Oregon; I'd like to heartily thank her for her persistence in looking for it on the White House Christmas tree! It was an honor to be able to create an ornament to represent our beautiful state; and my husband's and my visit to the White House will be a lifetime highlight for both of us! THANK YOU! And Happy Holidays!

Posted by: LynnPass | December 10, 2008 9:14 PM | Report abuse

Good grief! If you headline that as ROWDY!, you don't live in the real world!

Posted by: geniezuc | December 11, 2008 9:28 AM | Report abuse

Steve, Steve, Steve, you barely got elected to go to Washington to be our representative. You are just hanging in Washington by the skin of your teeth.

Quite drinking so much, sober up and quit embarrassing Tennessee. Us Southerners have wayyyy better manners than that.

Posted by: TnIndependent | December 11, 2008 9:44 AM | Report abuse

Let's see...were're in TWO wars, heading for a depression, every newspaper and TV news tells us the latest political scandal, and members of CONGRESS, our magnificent national Legislature, are fussing about Christmas ornaments? It's a sure sign of the Apocalypse!

Posted by: OdysseusRex | December 11, 2008 11:29 AM | Report abuse

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year America; the home of the brave and the land of the free!

God Bless!

Posted by: TraceyfromCanada | December 11, 2008 3:24 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: georgejones5 | December 11, 2008 6:42 PM | Report abuse

Bit of trivia. The usher's name, Daniel Shanks, is a combination of the real & screen names of a Stargate SG-1 actor/character on the SciFi Channel: Michael Shanks, actor, plays Daniel Jackson on the show. I bet this guy gets ribbed a lot about that.

Posted by: NeedToKnow | December 14, 2008 7:00 PM | Report abuse

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