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Dinner, a Movie and the President

It’s how many courtships begin — dinner, a movie and some friendly small talk.

The gentleman caller in this case is President Bush, and the recipients of his charm are Members of Congress, a handful of whom have been invited to the White House in recent weeks for casual evenings of food and socializing.

The most recent such gathering, organized by the White House Social Office, came June 8, when a bipartisan, bicameral group of about 10 lawmakers joined the president, first lady Laura Bush and a handful of administration officials for a buffet dinner outside the White House theater followed by a screening of the new Russell Crowe flick “Cinderella Man.”

Social Security wasn’t on the agenda, and neither was Iraq, energy or trade. Instead, say attendees, the event was strictly social.

One source who was present said there was virtually no shop talk at the event, instead labeling it part of a White House “charm offensive.”

The source added that the White House has held at least one other small social gathering for Members in recent weeks.

While she didn’t know the particular details of the June 8 screening, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said, “The president meets socially with Members of Congress from time to time throughout the year.”

Important as they are, most lawmakers are not immune to the flattery of a White House invitation. And unlike last week’s Congressional picnic on the South Lawn, where the invite list ran to several hundred, “Movie Night” allows a few lucky lawmakers to mingle with the president and first lady in the more intimate, relaxed setting of a well-appointed 40-seat theater.

Members who were present at the June 8 event included Reps. Bud Cramer (D-Ala.), William Jefferson (D-La.), Cathy McMorris (R-Wash.), Mike Oxley (R-Ohio) and Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) as well as Sens. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.).

While Bush attended with his better half, some lawmakers brought other family members with them.

“He took his daughter-in-law with him,” said Chambliss spokeswoman Annie Laurie Walters. “It was just a laid-back event.”

Unfortunately for some Members, their legislative responsibilities got in the way of their visit to the executive branch, as the House was busy voting on the Agriculture spending bill that evening.

Jefferson, for example, was able to grab some food but did not catch the movie.

“He went by for dinner but then they called a vote,” said Jefferson spokeswoman Melanie Rouffell.

She added that her boss saw the events as more of a social occasion than a professional one. “It was kind of a random thing,” she said.

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