First Lady Debuts New Bush China

There's nothing more elegant than a state dinner at the White House…the finest food served on the finest china.

It's a detail even Hollywood gushed about in the movie "The American President" where Michael Douglas played the commander in chief who famously described the room to environmental lobbyist Annette Bening as "the room with all the dishes."

"It's the China Room!" Bening's character said.

At 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., a room is set aside for the surviving china of presidents, including Madison, Monroe, Lincoln and Roosevelt along with the china or glassware of almost every past president.

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The room was designated in 1917 Ellen Wilson by Woodrow Wilson's wife as the Presidential Collection Room. Bening's character was right: It's now the China Room.

Among the ongoing political theater in Washington, questions swirled in the nation's capital today when first lady Laura Bush introduced the new Bush china -- with a price tag of more than $550,000 -- less than two weeks before she and President Bush move out.

The first lady was careful not to mention the price tag when she introduced the new presidential plates: one, a table set of formal china in white, green and gold; the other for the residence painted with magnolias in honor of the old trees outside the White House windows.

Laura Bush said she and her husband plan to fly straight to the Bush ranch Jan. 20 and will move to their new residence in Dallas "once the paint dries."

White House press secretary Dana Perino made little of the first lady's timing to introduce the new china, saying there's "no time but the present."

The White House worried that general wear and tear had taken a toll on its fragile China collections and Perino says the Bushes took some time to decide on a new design.

But ordering new china can be a political nightmare.

"I have to say that I am baffled by this, by the timing of it," said Sally Quinn, a Washington journalist and author.

Custom China Collection

Quinn recalled the uproar when President Reagan was slashing the federal budget and his wife, Nancy Reagan, "took a lot of heat" for ordering $200,000 in scarlet china with the presidential seal in gold.

After the outcry, the White House Historical Association, a private foundation, was created to pay for the Reagans' china.

When the White House celebrated its 200th birthday, then-first lady Hillary Clinton designed a new $250,000 set, also paid for by the same foundation. The group is also footing the bill for the Bush china.

Normally, only two-term presidents have time to order custom china so former Presidents Nixon, Carter and Bush never got the chance.

Adding to the collection is likely one task the new first family shouldn't have to face when they entertain.

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