Presidential slumber party made White House history

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- Any way you look at it, this was quite a sleep over.

Those formerly strange bedfellows -- Bill Clinton, George Bush and Jimmy Carter -- all tucked in under the same roof for a presidential slumber party.


Never before had two former occupants of the White House been asked to stay over by the current resident.

So when President Clinton offered Mr. Bush and Mr. Carter bed 'n' breakfast Monday evening, it provided a perfect nightcap for a historic day.


(Dear Miss Manners: Where do you sleep the guys who used to have the house keys when you're playing host?

(What if they don't want to leave?)

First, you soften up the guests with cocktails.

Before dinner, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Rosalynn Carter joined their husbands and Mr. Bush in the residence for drinks. (Barbara Bush "had something else to do," her husband told the president; former President Ronald Reagan was invited but couldn't make it.)

The executive party all strolled out on the Truman balcony, relishing the view and the accomplishments of an extraordinary day.

"There was a lot of talking and joking in the residence," said a White House aide, who requested anonymity -- or safe passage to a foreign country of her choosing if her identity was compromised.

After Happy Hour, the group repaired to the Blue Room for a star-studded banquet. Among the 54 luminaries was yet another ex-president, Gerald R. Ford, who brought his wife, Betty, to chow down on the Black Angus sirloin with Yukon gold potatoes.

Hillary Clinton sat between Presidents Carter and Ford at one table. After giving a toast for "peace, progress and the prosperity of the American people," President Clinton sat at another table between Rosalynn Carter and Betty Ford, with Mr. Bush facing him across the linen.


Historic first No. 2: four presidents dining at the White House.

There was lots of picture taking after dinner, as the presidents' club posed with the chefs and the household staff.

President Clinton led the way to the Red Room for postprandial coffee. Not being a night owl like his successor, Mr. Bush said good night shortly after 11 p.m., ready to jump into those monogrammed jammies.

The Clintons and the Carters stayed around, talking and comparing notes on the embattled North American Free Trade Agreement and "about all the countries he [Mr. Carter] has been in," according to Mr. Clinton.

On their way upstairs, both couples stopped to hear the band in the ballroom and took a few turns around the dance floor.

Mr. Bush bunked in the second-floor Queen's Bedroom on the east side of the residence. The bed is believed to have belonged to Andrew Jackson, who started off political life as a Jeffersonian Republican but died a Democrat.


Across the hall, the Carters bedded down in the Lincoln Suite, which traditionally has been the (temporary) resting place of the president's closest friends.

Jimmy and Rosalynn nested in the giant rosewood bed, 8 feet long and 6 feet wide, thought to have been purchased by Mary Todd Lincoln in 1861.

As is his custom, Bill Clinton went for a run yesterday morning -- but without his overnight guests, both known joggers.

"They're up working," said Mr. Clinton.

Actually, Mr. Bush had gone off to an early meeting.

"We had a nice, nice evening," said the president.


The Fords, who had spent the night at the Willard Hotel a couple of blocks away, returned for breakfast -- a McClinton special of eggs, bacon, sausage, coffee and orange juice served in the family dining room.

Then it was off to the East Room ceremony, where the ex-prezes repaid their hospitality with praise for Mr. Clinton and NAFTA.

Later, an ebullient Mr. Clinton said he was "stunned" to learn that his slumber party had made the history books.

"I really appreciate all three of them coming," Mr. Clinton said after a news conference. "I loved, you know, the nice opportunity for me to ask their advice about some things, listen to them talk and sort of get their historical perspective."