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Singing, Swinging Senators Prove Politicians Can Harmonize

October 19, 1995

WASHINGTON (AP) _ At work on Capitol Hill they quibble over Medicare cuts and threaten to filibuster welfare reform. But after hours, those swinging, singing senators really can harmonize _ and move.

With a rollicking performance of patriotic and gospel tunes, Republican Sens. John Ashcroft of Missouri, Trent Lott of Mississippi, Larry Craig of Idaho and James Jeffords of Vermont made their world debut at the Kennedy Center on Wednesday night.

They hit all the right notes and showed remarkable mastery of the moves: Ashcroft’s deep, rhythmic knee-bends and Lott’s Elvis-style hip swivels.

Then there was Jeffords jumping in place in what Lott could only describe as a ``bunny-hop thing.″

Members of the audience, who had paid as much as $500 per ticket to benefit the nonpartisan American Council of Young Political Leaders, clapped along and roared and whistled in approval.

``If you’re going to throw anything, throw money,″ Ashcroft told the crowd after the group’s opening number.

Following the show’s headliners, an intimidating troupe of professional Broadway singers, the senators started out a little stiff. But nerves quickly yielded to the performer that lives in every politician.

By the end, they played it smooth and slapstick.

``We had two more people, but six is called a sextet,″ Lott began.

Craig picked up the line: ``I’m on the Ethics Committee, so I had to veto that.″

It was an unchoreographed and unscripted performance meant to show not only that politicians can harmonize, but that they’re human, too.

``Senators are people, too. There’s a lot of doubt out there in the hinterland,″ Lott said backstage.

And, while the foursome _ three conservatives and a liberal-leaning moderate, Jeffords _ does not yet have a name or costumes (unless the Senate’s standard-issue blue suit and red tie count), Lott said it does have a motto: ``If you can sing together, you can vote together.″

At work, the group has had its divisions. Jeffords often splits from Republicans over the extent to which welfare and other social benefits are cut. And Ashcroft at one point joined conservatives threatening to hold up a vote on welfare reform unless cash support for unwed teen-age mothers was banned.

Democrats, for the time being at least, were not invited to join in the harmonizing.

``They have no talent,″ Lott joked, with Craig jumping in to add, ``and they don’t know how to have fun.″

Lott, the Senate’s majority whip and a torchbearer for conservatives, appeared to have the most fun on stage, rocking his pelvis to the Oak Ridge Boys’ ``Elvira.″ Later, in the wings, he lightheartedly worried about how conservative, family-values types would view his performance.

``I have back troubles, you know,″ he told a reporter.

``Yeah, it was just therapy. He’s got to do his exercises,″ Ashcroft offered.

The senators, who first realized they could harmonize at a colleague’s birthday party, are now entertaining scores of invitations to perform at other benefits, and even one offer to accompany the National Symphony.

They rehearse weekly in a tucked-away office in the Capitol and are still deliberating on a handful of name suggestions: The Sena-tones, The Upper Chamber, Smoke and Mirrors, Quorum Call.

Is the American public ready for the august Senate to let its hair down?

Before the show, ticket holders were skeptical.

``This is certainly another dimension than the one we’re used to seeing,″ said Peter Vogt, a Washington motion picture producer. ``But I’m not sure it’s a dimension the public actually craves.″

But after the quartet’s encore-commanding performance, some reconsidered.

``I’m so very impressed and surprised,″ said Debbie Wiater, a northern Virginia video company executive. ``Those guys were so human-like up there. It was great to see.″

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