"I like a good party," President Obama insisted this week, defending his social relationships with members of Congress.
That said, the president argued that business ultimately gets done in Washington when the American people demand it. "And that will be true whether I'm the life of the party or a stick in the mud," he said.
That may in part explain why, at a time when Americans are expecting lawmakers to address serious issues like the debt ceiling and gun control, the Presidential Inaugural Committee is celebrating the president's second-term swearing in with just two official balls, compared to the 10 held in 2009. To be sure, those two parties will be impressive -- tens of thousands of people are expected to attend, and they may get a glimpse of the president as they elbow their way to the front of the bar.
But for the Washingtonians who are serious about partying, there are more than 100 other events happening over inaugural weekend. These events aren't affiliated with the Presidential Inaugural Committee; independent groups are simply taking advantage of the celebratory weekend to party -- often with lawmakers. There are parties, balls, brunches and receptions planned for the weekend, where Obama administration officials, members of Congress and their staffers will mingle over cocktails with anyone who has the cash to get in.
Usually, the people willing to put up the cash for a swanky party have an agenda to push. And in spite of the president's lofty views of governance, many in Washington realize that having a party is a good way to win over lawmakers.
"It's a different way to get a message across -- with a drink in your hand, sitting in a nice setting -- as opposed to hammering things out over a table," said Doug Durante of the Clean Fuels Foundation. His organization is helping to organize the Environmental and Clean Energy Inaugural Ball, billed as a classy event where, for $200 a ticket, those interested in the environment and the clean energy industry can mingle with lawmakers while enjoying an open bar, a full dinner buffet and a live band.
"No one's really talking serious business, but the overall message is quite clear," Durante said. "It's got a different and to some degree lasting effect [than a business meeting] because it's a good time -- people don't remember bad meetings."