WASHINGTON -- Lumps of coal were big. And there was an empty popcorn box, which may, a source said, have been re-gifted.
Those were among the more self-aware gifts swapped Monday night, when the U.S. Senate added a Secret Santa clause to its tradition of peculiar protocols and observations.
Between votes on ambassador confirmations, 39 Democrats and 22 Republican senators ducked into the Mansfield Room and poked through large piles of wrapped presents, looking for their name tags.
Sen. Chuck Schumer was so delighted with his carved-coal donkey and elephant figurines that he showed them off to everybody he ran into. He quickly figured out who his Secret Santa was: The riddle with the 5-inch statues said, " With an eight percent approval rating, both Democrats and Republicans in Congress deserve to have coal in their stocking this year. Lucky for us, my state has more than enough to go around."
Thank you, Joe Manchin, from the great state of West Virginia!
"It was pretty funny," said Manchin in a phone interview, " seeing all these grown men and women -- U.S. senators -- looking for their gifts. It was a really neat little thing."
"Every year we look at videos of our kids opening their gifts," said Al Franken, D-Minn., who organized the affair with Mike Johanns, Republican of Nebraska. Eggnog, cookies and fruitcake were served, "and this reminded me of that."
The onetime bipartisan dinner party is a relic, and the "supercommittee" met its own supercollider and blew to bits. The Date Night plan for Dems to sit with R's at the State of the Union led to nobody really hooking up. And so Al Franken, who is Jewish but clearly ecumenical, came up with the Secret Santa party in a last grasp for glad tidings and cooperative spirit before 2011 is nothing but a bitter memory of partisan rancor.
And so it came to pass that 90 minutes of bipartisan revels began.
Manchin, too, got three lumps of coal -- labeled "clean coal," "critical mineral" and "Does this look green to you?" Plus a pair of hiking socks, and a six-pack of Snow Day beer, with a note that said, "Basically in my state, when things are cold, there are two ways to keep warm. "He figured out fast enough that the Colorado senator who came up with that grab bag was his workout buddy, Mark Udall.
Schumer laid a bottle of original buffalo wing sauce from the Anchor Bar, home of this essential part of the food pyramid, on Mike Johanns, Republican of Nebraska.
Senators drew names in November and were ordered to keep to a strict $10 limit on the gifts. Kent Conrad, a member of the stumped supercommittee of senators and House members, presented the empty popcorn box to fellow Democrat Mary Landieu of Louisiana, although a spy said Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin's name still was on the box.