Remarks at the Annual Salute to Congress Dinner

February 4, 1981

The President. Madam Chairman, thank you very much, and thank you especially for not giving me a question. [Laughter]

I'm a little surprised to find myself at this podium tonight. I know your organization was founded by six Washington newspaperwomen in 1919 -- seems only yesterday. [Laughter] I know that it was Washington's National Press Club for over a half a century, so I thought that tonight's production would be equal time, right? A night for Nancy. Then I learned of your 1971 pioneering and coeducational Washington press corps. You changed the name. You admitted male members. You also encouraged male speakers. So, here I am, a poor but modest substitute for the former Nancy Davis, ready to defend myself and every other middle-aged male in America. [Laughter]

I can define ``middle-aged.'' That's when you're faced with two temptations and you choose the one that'll get you home at 9 o'clock. [Laughter]

I do want to congratulate the Washington Press Club for forward-looking leadership, and I hope that Ann McFeatters and Carol Richards and all of you succeed quickly in your effort to acquire a clubhouse. [Laughter] And if we have our way and you wait a little bit there will be several public buildings that will be open to -- -- [laughter].

But I tell you, it's good to be here with all my fellow classmates in the freshman class. Merv -- you know that Merv and I came here by way of Sacramento. Merv was a Lieutenant Governor for Governor Brown. The difference you'll find here, Merv, is that the flakes are real. [Laughter] And if enough of them fall from heaven, it stops traffic for hours. And Senator D'Amato, if I could raise the kind of money with my pictures you're talking about, hell, I'd still be there. [Laughter]

Congressman Savage, I understand very well all that you were saying about Chicago. I had an uncle who was a Democrat in Chicago. He received a silver cup from the party for never having missed voting in 14 elections. He'd been dead for 15 of them. [Laughter] And I appreciated Senator Dodd's concern about those people from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, that couldn't get into some of the things at the Inaugural. We have taken care of that problem -- just told them to hang on to them for about 4 more years. [Laughter]

But to get back to the view of the press club, I think that you're taking this honeymoon idea too seriously. I passed a Marriott drive-in and saw Helen Thomas trying to carry Jim Brady over the threshold. [Laughter] But it isn't all honeymoon. If I'm on a honeymoon, romance is dead in Washington. Jesse Helms wants me to move to the right; Lowell Weicker wants me to move to the left; Teddy Kennedy wants me to move back to California. [Laughter] And while I have the opportunity with so many of the press, I want you to know that it is not true that the Moral Majority has been trying to exert undue influence. That rumor started recently when Jerry Falwell called me with a suggestion for Ambassador to Iran: the publisher of Penthouse. [Laughter]

I've been spending some of my time trying to meet the Democratic Members of Congress half way, and the half-way house I found is Tip O'Neill's office. [Laughter]

But I am glad that you asked me here and seriously would like to explain that Nancy would have been with me. Maybe it was just the cold; I hope it was. She thought and felt like maybe she was coming down with something, and we're both scheduled very early in the morning for the Prayer Breakfast. And so, I was instrumental in telling her she should stay home by the fire and drink warm milk and maybe we'll be together in the morning.

So, I look forward to seeing all of you, the members particularly again, in a businesslike way. And please, for heaven's sake, don't stand up and wave and shout, or Jim Brady will take away my privileges. [Laughter]

Thank you.

Ms. McFeatters. Thank you, Mr. President.

And now before you leave, we would like to celebrate Friday the 6th, your birthday, 2 days early, before it's declared a national holiday. [Laughter] On behalf of the Washington Press Club, I would like to give you this poster, which shows you and Mrs. Reagan a year or so ago, and it's been titled ``The Winning Team.''

And now will you please all join me in a hearty rendition of ``Happy Birthday, Mr. President.''

[The audience sang ``Happy Birthday, Mr. President.'']

The President. Thank you very much.

I'm delighted to have this. And I just want to say that I don't mind at all any of the jokes or remarks about age, because Thomas Jefferson made a comment about the Presidency and age. He said that one should not worry about one's exact chronological age in reference to his ability to perform one's task. And ever since he told me that -- [laughter] -- I stopped worrying.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 10:49 p.m. in the Sheraton Ballroom at the Sheraton Washington Hotel. Ann McFeatters is president of the Washington Press Club, which sponsored the dinner.