What's George W. Bush's recipe for bipartisanship?
Barbecued ribs, throw in some cheeseburgers and baked beans, sprinkle a little Texas charm and show a movie about a triumphant moment of a Democratic presidency.
Even some of his chief critics -- members of the Kennedy family -- agree: This was a nice way to spend an evening with the new Republican administration, and a positive step toward bridging the partisan divide.
"It was a really nice evening," said Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, D-R.I., who sat next to President Bush as they dined together Thursday night at the White House.
Bush invited Patrick Kennedy and other members of the nation's most prominent Democratic dynasty, including the congressman's father, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., and his cousin, Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, to dinner and a screening of "Thirteen Days" -- a movie about the Kennedy administration's handling of the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, the only surviving child of the late John F. Kennedy, was also invited but was unable to attend.
"He gets a lot credit from us for reaching out," said Patrick Kennedy. "That's the smart political thing for him to do, and I can't say I wasn't impressed by it."
Only hours after the latest partisan squabble ended over the confirmation of John D. Ashcroft as attorney general, the Kennedys and Bush staff were tearing into sticky ribs, and munching on cheeseburgers at the White House.
Although Patrick Kennedy said he found the menu "a little odd," the congressman said Thursday's gathering showed the down-to-earth manner of the new president.
First lady Laura Bush, National Security Adviser Condolezza Rice and Chief of Staff Andrew Card were among the nearly 20 people who joined the Kennedys for dinner, served buffet-style.
Patrick Kennedy, who last winter called candidate Bush "a wing nut" and last month implied that he stole the 2000 election, said he has had a change of heart about the former Texas governor after meeting with him for the first time.
"I would say that my opinion has changed," Kennedy said. "He is a very warm person who is interested in trying to make a positive difference. I don't think he is as dogmatic as I maybe initially thought. I told him that there was an opportunity for him in the future to demonstrate that."
Kennedy said he wanted to avoid "talking shop" with Bush, but he encouraged the president to support mental health programs and to stand up to the Christian right -- especially after the bruising battle over Ashcroft.
"He said he's not into fighting anybody, he just wants to get things done," Kennedy said. "I thought that was very, you know, self-reflective and very real. I didn't sense a contrived answer in that."
Kennedy presented the president with a three-star admiral's flag, which belonged to the commander of the carrier division during the Cuban missile crisis, Vice Admiral John "Chick" Hayward.
Kennedy had already seen the movie so he thanked the president for dinner and told him he would not be staying for the whole film. Then Kennedy slipped quietly out the back door of the White House theater.
"I didn't want to make a scene," he said.