Ignore the publicity hounds and get back to work

Without regrets, the social secretary declined the invitation. Desirèe Rogers skipped last week's congressional hearing to determine exactly who's to blame for the blemish that marred the first couple's big dinner party — the entry of two interlopers. The guests of honor, the gate-crashing Tareq and Michaele Salahi, also declined to attend.

Official Washington is still all a-twitter over a celebrity-seeking Virginia couple's successful entry — sans invitation, apparently — into a high-security, invitation-only state dinner at the White House just before Thanksgiving. Investigations are in progress; a hearing was held; the Salahis continue to extend their 15 minutes of fame.

You'd think that with two wars, staggering debt and soaring unemployment, Congress would have weightier matters to explore. But the inside-the-Beltway milieu has its own rules, procedures and protocols. Somebody would have to be slow-roasted on a public spit for the security breach; no public official worth his salt could resist the opportunity to burnish his credentials while tarnishing those of his opponents.

So there was U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, head of the House Homeland Security Committee, mightily annoyed that the Salahis refused to appear before his panel on Thursday. He threatened to issue a subpoena and to hold them in contempt of Congress should they refuse to honor it. "We must dissect every fact," he declared.

Never mind that the Salahis are already the subject of an official investigation by the Secret Service. Thompson wants to borrow a couple of their 15 minutes.

Upping the ante on absurdity, U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., threatened to subpoena Rogers, the White House social secretary. While Democrats on the Homeland Security Committee seemed content to drill the Secret Service, Republicans were looking for a way to tie the breach to the Obamas. Thus the focus on Rogers, an Obama appointee.

(Lest we forget, the people who would be the targets of any genuine security threat are the president and the first lady. But if King could find a way to blame them for the breach, well, that's the way the game is played in Washington.)

King managed to make her absence a matter of great import, calling it "stonewalling, pure and simple." Is this really a scandal of such magnitude that stonewalling would be called for? Is this Gate-crasher-gate?

I don't know Rogers. I don't even know what a social secretary is supposed to do, so I can't say whether she properly discharged her duties. (My soirees tend to be a bit more casual; my invitations issued with an eye toward keeping chaos to a minimum: "Hey, I'm cooking collard greens and black-eyed peas, as usual, on New Year's Day. How many people are you bringing?")

I do know that the members of the alumni sorority of social secretaries have passed harsh judgment on her performance, denouncing her for playing the role of honored guest rather than worker bee. Instead of manning a gate with invitation list in hand, Rogers, a former corporate executive and Chicago socialite, made a dramatic entrance in a rumpled tablecloth, ah, evening dress, apparently designed for the daring.

Rogers may not have figured out exactly what a social secretary does, either, but it's pretty clear that her job description does not include protecting the president. That job falls squarely on the shoulders of the Service Service, whose officialdom has already taken responsibility, apologized and meted out discipline.

"This is our fault and our fault alone," Secret Service chief Mark Sullivan told Thompson's panel. He noted that three Secret Service agents are on administrative leave because of the Salahis' stunt, and they could lose their jobs.

Congress surely can bow out of the matter now and forget the subpoenas. Thompson and his team might find more useful work, like guarding the borders.

As for the Salahis, they are narcissistic twits who would enjoy being the targets of a congressional probe. Ignoring them would be the punishment they deserve.

Cynthia Tucker is the 2007 Pulitzer Prize-winning editor of the opinion page of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Reach her at cynthia@ajc.com.

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