Presidential Inauguration 2013

01.20.13

John Kerry vs. Bob Woodward

The secretary-of-state-in-waiting playfully strangles the legendary journalist—and other highlights from today’s Daily Beast bipartisan brunch. The brunch, in partnership with Credit Suisse at Georgetown’s Cafe Milano, was co-hosted by editor in chief Tina Brown, Pamela Thomas-Graham, Mark McKinnon, Eva Longoria, and Harvey Weinstein. Lloyd Grove reports.

The highlight of The Daily Beast’s bipartisan brunch, at least for those who witnessed it Sunday, was when John Kerry strangled Bob Woodward.

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From left, Tina Brown, Teresa Heinz Kerry, and John Kerry at The Daily Beast’s bipartisan brunch, in partnership with Credit Suisse, at Cafe Milano in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2013. (Scott Henrichsen/Newsweek)

Well, he didn’t actually strangle him, but it was a closer approximation of the real thing than Manti T’eo’s fake girlfriend.

The Massachusetts senator and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, who stopped by the mob scene at Café Milano in Washington to take a break from preparations for his Jan. 24 confirmation hearing for secretary of state, was chatting with The Washington Post sleuth about his various investigative projects.

That’s when Woodward let slip: “I’ve got a lot of cables of your meetings with the Pakistanis”—a reference apparently to top secret documents brimming with details of Kerry’s confidential encounters with the United States’ most troublesome ally as a special envoy of President Obama.

The 6-foot-4 Kerry’s eyes widened. Then, towering over the 5-foot-10 Woodward, he grasped the reporter’s neck with both hands and squeezed. But only lightly. He left no marks.

“Did anybody get a picture of that?” Woodward wondered. Alas, it seems not.

Afterward, Kerry told me, “I’m working hard” on getting ready for his grilling by his Senate colleagues, but seemed confident that he’d pass the test and, as most folks assume, sail to confirmation. “I’m looking forward to it,” he said.

His wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, told me that there will be at least one significant difference between Secretary of State Kerry and the current leader of the State Department.

“He’s not going to travel as much as Hillary,” she confided.

Melanne Verveer, ambassador at large for global women’s issues, told me her good friend Hillary Clinton continues to be “on the mend” after her bout with flu, a concussion, and a blood clot, and that both expect to be out of the government within three weeks. (Verveer is headed for a prestigious think-tank spot, but she coyly provided no details.) But Chief of Protocol Capricia Marshall, another Clinton confidante, said the Obama administration “has asked me to stay on” and that’s what she intends to do.

The brunch—which was so crowded with VIPs, politicians, journalists, and celebrities that it was all but impossible to move—was about as bipartisan as it gets these days in the nation’s capital.

“It’s like bumper cars in here—it’s crazy,” marveled glam actress Rosario Dawson, who was making the inaugural rounds networking and hobnobbing in the service of comprehensive immigration reform. “Not being trampled to death would be really nice,” she added.

Ike’s granddaughter Susan Eisenhower, who switched her party label from Republican to independent and backed Barack Obama in 2008, had a similar lofty goal for the weekend festivities. She didn’t want a repeat performance of Richard Nixon’s first inaugural celebration in 1969, “when somebody spilled a glass of champagne down my favorite dress,” she told me.

“You have to understand—in this business some days the other side is going to hit you hard, and then you’re going to have to find a way to work together.”
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The Daily Beast/Newsweek editor in chief Tina Brown—who co-hosted the brunch along with Harvey Weinstein, Eva Longoria, Mark McKinnon, and Credit Suisse’s Pamela Thomas-Graham—joked that the party was a venue “where Democrats, Republicans, and their food tasters all sit down together.”

Although the attendees were overwhelmingly Obama supporters—only fitting on the weekend of his second-term inauguration—some bona fide Republicans contributed to the diversity, including pollster Frank Luntz, lobbyist Ed Rogers, anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist, Illinois Rep. Aaron Schock, former Virginia congressman Tom Davis, and arguably Colin Powell. And, oh yes, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, one of the Grand Old Partiers serving in Obamaland.

Brown expressed the hope that the obliging spirit of the brunch would somehow infuse Washington as a whole. “If a star football player can have a mythical girlfriend, why can’t I have a mythical Congress?” she asked, adding that Washington’s power grid, on some level, certainly reflects America. “We have a female Democratic leader, a Mormon Senate majority leader, an Irish vice president, a black president, and an orange speaker of the House.”

Former congressman Davis, director of government affairs for the Deloitte & Touche consulting firm, had middling hopes for Obama’s second term, but only if the White House extends the olive branch.

“The president is the one who’s got to make the move on this stuff,” Davis insisted. “[Speaker] John Boehner is doing what he can in the House to try to bring things together,” he added, citing the fiscal-cliff vote that allowed rich folks’ taxes to rise and the decision not to fight on the debt ceiling, at least not initially. “I think the Republicans have gone more than half way.”

Davis urged everybody to thicken their skins. “You have to understand—in this business some days the other side is going to hit you hard, and then you’re going to have to find a way to work together. That’s the way it works. And you can’t just be offended because they hit you hard a couple of times.”