Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
April 23, 2014

Posts by Diana Oberoi

18 Posts

September 18, 2013

Embassies Get Their Entertainment On

As September draws to a close, several embassies are opening their doors to the public with films and celebrations.

Kicking things off Friday is Film by the Pool at the Embassy of Switzerland (2900 Cathedral Ave. NW.) RSVP tickets will be available online Thursday morning.

“We are very much looking forward to hosting the first-ever movie night at the pool,” said Andrea Kienast, the embassy’s event manager.

“The beautiful embassy park is usually closed to the public,” Kienast said, adding, “We wanted to invite people this fall to enjoy an unusually romantic setting and two great movies.”

The first film is “Un Mundo para Raúl,” a short film Mauro Mueller that tells the story of a 13-year-old boy who must entertain his father’s boss’ son. The film will have English subtitles, and Mueller will be present to take questions from the audience.

Full story

September 13, 2013

A Banner Week for Capitol Hill Pets

A Banner Week for Capitol Hill Pets

Aragon and Quince in the Cannon Building.
(Courtesy Aragon’s Facebook page)

Capitol Hill loves its pets — cats, dogs and the exotic alike — and the affection was on full display last week, as Fireside21 revealed the winners of its “Top Dog” contest and the Animal Health Institute hosted its 17th Annual Celebrity Pet Night, complete with the winners of its 2013 Cutest Pets on Capitol Hill Contest.

“Pet Night is a fun, popular and interactive way to highlight how much we love and care for our pets,” Ron Phillips, AHI’s vice president of legislative and public affairs, said of Thursday night’s event.

The judges — Kate Bennett of Washingtonian Magazine, Benny Johnson of BuzzFeed, Tommy McFly of 94.7 Fresh FM and Nikki Schwab of US News & World Report — were tasked with sorting through the  awww-inducing submissions. Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., a veterinarian, announced the winners, bracketed by Quince, who plays Baxter in “Anchorman II” and Aragon, who plays Lord Tubbington on “Glee.”

The cutest exotic pet was the turtle Senator, owned by Megan Thompson, from the office of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. The cutest cat was Avon Barksdale, who is owned by Aly Lubov, who works for Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn. And the cutest dog was Lily, who is owned by Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif.

A Banner Week for Capitol Hill Pets

(Courtesy Facebook)

Meanwhile, Fireside21′s “Top Dog” winners, an online contest that had the Hill burning up the Internets, were announced Tuesday on its readers radar.

A Banner Week for Capitol Hill Pets

“Top Dog” Winston
(Courtesy Fireside21)

Online voting has been under way since August. The competition was nothing to woof at, but the top honors went to Winston, the English Labrador representing the office of Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas.

“The winners were chosen based upon their point total with one point for a ‘Like’ and two for a ‘Share’ on Facebook,” explained Fireside21 CEO Ken Ward, who was impressed with the voting support that the inaugural competition’s dog-testants received.

Ward told HOH that the cumulative score was 158,309, with the top vote-getter receiving 56,195 points.

“We do anticipate repeating this contest in future years,” Ward said, “but since we received a few complaints from cat people feeling left out, we may have to expand the concept.”

September 11, 2013

Capitol Dance Party Hopes to Shake Things Up

After Wednesday’s solemn 9/11 commemorations, it falls to the organizers of Listen! Dance! Unite! to show people around the Capitol that unity events can have a little flair as well.

“This past year, we hosted a couple of successful nightclub events that were designed to bring together people from different communities and backgrounds under the power of soul-edifying music that gets you on your feet,” said Jordan Wilson, one of the event organizers. “Following our positive experience with these nights, we decided to take the idea to the nation’s capital, where divisive partisanship and bitterness have become somewhat of a plague.”

That decision led to Thursday night’s dance party, which will take place on the West Terrace of the Capitol from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. DJ “Stylus Chris” will spin the tunes for the fiesta, which is free.

“The purpose of the event is to use the power of music and dance to unite people, if only for one evening, on the footsteps of one of the most divided institutions in the country, the United States Congress,” Wilson said, adding, “and the tag line is ‘people over politics’ because it appears that amidst political arguments and debates, too often we lose sight of our shared humanity.”

Another organizer, Rev. Patrick Mahoney, told HOH that, “with the Capitol so divided, it is critical that we start putting ‘people over politics’ and start building personal relationships.”

September 9, 2013

Take Five: Suzan DelBene

Take Five: Suzan DelBene

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

It’s time again for Take Five, when HOH talks with a member of Congress about topics relatively unrelated to legislative work. This week, Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., talks about her travels during recess, social media and the great outdoors.

Q. During recess you traveled with other members of Congress. Where did you go?

A. I went to Israel. [House Minority Whip Steny H.] Hoyer organized the trip and we went all over. It was an educational experience; we saw many different areas, from the southern part of the country and up north to the Lebanese border. We heard about the history of these places, which is important as we [head] back to Washington.

Q. What prompted you to want to be a member of Congress? You had several nice job titles before (Microsoft executive, Washington Department of Revenue director).

A. I had great opportunities despite financial struggles that my family went through growing up. I went to college with student loans and work study, and I believe that it’s important for everyone to have that opportunity. Folks are going to keep fighting for the chance for a better future, and I want us to preserve that. Full story

September 2, 2013

Take Five: Robert W. Goodlatte

It’s time again for Take Five, when HOH talks with a member of Congress about topics relatively unrelated to legislative work. This week, Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., talks about National League teams vs. American League teams, his favorite hiking trail and what’s on his reading list.

Q. What made you decide to transition from lawyer to congressman?

A. I had always been interested in Congress. In fact, after law school, I worked as district director for former Congressman Caldwell Butler before practicing law. My interest in politics and participation at the local level over the years, as well as my desire to serve the 6th District, led me to run for Congress. As chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, my law background is put to use on a daily basis!

Q. Where is your favorite place to go hiking? Why?

A. The Appalachian Trail, which winds across the ridges and valleys of my district for more than 200 miles. One of my favorite spots is McAfee Knob. It’s hard to beat the view from the top!  It is said to be the most photographed spot on the Appalachian Trail.

Q. On Facebook you list the Red Sox as being a team you like. How did that happen? Do the Nationals get any love, as long as they are not playing the Red Sox?

A. I am a lifelong Red Sox fan, but the Nationals are now my National League team. The Salem Red Sox are a minor-league team right outside the 6th District that I also follow closely. I enjoy seeing players in Boston who have moved up through Salem and eventually make it to the big leagues. It would be great to see the Nationals play the Red Sox in the World Series.

Q. Of all the people you follow on Twitter, whose tweets do you enjoy the most and why?

A. I follow a lot of local news outlets. It’s a good way to keep up with what’s going on at home.

Q. Two books you like are on John Adams and Abraham Lincoln. Do you have a penchant for historical nonfiction or does your literary taste run the gamut?

A. I read just about every genre, but I am particularly interested in presidential history. I am currently reading “A Passion to Lead: Theodore Roosevelt in His Own Words,” which is edited by Laura Ross. Another interesting fact is that I have visited homes of 42 of the 44 presidents.

August 23, 2013

Ben’s Chili Bowl Celebrates 55 Years

Fifty-five years ago, on Aug. 22, 1958, Ben’s Chili Bowl opened for business. Now an essential and thriving part of the community, it has seen the landscape of U Street Northwest drastically change over the years. It survived the riots in the ’60s, waves of construction around the U Street Metro and a sluggish D.C. economy. Yet through it all, it beckoned people to come in, sit down at the counter and share conversation.

Bens Chili Bowl Celebrates 55 Years

Marion Barry in front of the mural of President Barack Obama outside Ben’s.
(Courtesy BadAperture)

It doesn’t matter if you like your half-smoke grilled, split and fried, or, as their biggest fan Bill Cosby likes it, topped with onions, mustard and chili. You can even be a vegetarian, Democrat or Republican. Ben’s is nonpartisan, and celebrities and average Joes are all treated like family.

As Councilmember Marion Barry put it at Thursday’s celebration for Ben’s 55th anniversary, “The only people I know who could get Jesse Jackson, Marion Barry, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Mayor Gray and the community together at one time, is the Ali family at Ben’s.”

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, who said he frequents Ben’s one to two times a week, made a proclamation that Aug. 22 is Ben’s Chili Bowl Day in the District of Columbia.

Bens Chili Bowl Celebrates 55 Years

Gray congratulates the Ali family on 55 years of Ben’s Chili Bowl.
(Courtesy BadAperture)

Even President Barack Obama showed his support by sending a message to the Ali family via Brian Summers, a staunch Republican. “Ben’s celebrates family equality and fosters a strong sense of community to all who visit. As we mark this milestone, we take pride in this special day at Ben’s,” Summers said. In closing, he noted the first lady “will come back for a special visit.”

Being a pillar in the community, the restaurant sees everybody. But only comedian Bill Cosby and the Obama family get to eat at Ben’s for free. Cosby is also the only one whom Nizam Ali — the youngest of Ben’s sons —  has delivered half-smokes to in New York, the Solomons Island and Richmond, Va. But Cosby has been a fan for 54 years, so he’s treated like family.

Still, the entire Ali family tries to remain humble about their success.

“The success isn’t something we feel we can take credit for,” Nizam Ali told CQ Roll Call. “Someone in the family is here every day; you do what needs to be done.”

Bens Chili Bowl Celebrates 55 Years

Cosby was the master of ceremonies at the 55th anniversary celebration at Ben’s Chili Bowl.
(Courtesy BadAperture)

Nizam Ali credits his parents for raising him and his brothers in the business and having them do every conceivable job in the restaurant.

“But it’s also God looking out for us,” he continued. “It’s Karma. You can’t get arrogant because it’s everyone who comes through our doors that keeps us here. We’ve been blessed.”

It’s no secret that Ben’s is a big tourist draw, and people come from all over the world to visit. But it’s more than the food that keeps them coming back, Nizam Ali said.

He recalled a story his father told him of  a guy who sat down and ordered a chili dog, then another and another.

“At some point, my dad started talking to him, and the guy tells him, he just got out of jail, and Ben called him ‘sir.’ No one calls him sir, and it was nice to feel like a normal person for once.”

Moe, a 16-year employee of Ben’s Chili Bowl who was introduced at the celebration, met his wife at Ben’s Chili Bowl. During his time at Ben’s, he said he picked up some of the Ali family’s values of being an anchor in the community.

“I’ve become a mentor, an uncle to young men  in neighborhood,” Moe said. “For the Howard students, I’ve been a counselor. The stools at the counter have become couches. I’ve been a psychologist and Monday morning quarterback.”

The excitement for the anniversary drew thunderous applause and joyous yelling from the large crowd that gathered Thursday.

“Hello,” Cosby said, at one point taking the microphone, “you all don’t have to pay much attention just walk around and enjoy and take your medication and in 20 minutes you will quiet down.”

“It wouldn’t be Ben’s if we didn’t have someone yelling from the community,” Nizam Ali joked.

August 21, 2013

Pie It Forward in Chinatown

People often complain about the state of the world. The economy isn’t great, and every day there is another tragedy in the news. What can the average Joe do to change any of that? Well, if you are Sarah Fertig and her team of self-proclaimed “weirdo do-gooders,” you bake pies and give them away for free.

It began in July 2012, when Sarah and her then-boyfriend Chris Kovac were baking and giving away free pie in Ann Arbor’s Liberty Plaza. Deep down Sarah, felt a push to take their message cross-country and reach more people.

 

Pie It Forward in Chinatown

Chris, Sarah, and Shalosh of Pie it Forward.
(Courtesy of Sarah Fertig)

“We started giving away our pies in Ann Arbor last year from July till November” said Fertig. “We loved the mission so much we decided to quit our jobs and travel the country to bring the pies and the message to a wider audience.”

What’s the catch? Nothing in life is ever free, so there must be a hidden message or a political rant that goes with the pie, right? Full story

August 12, 2013

Need a Lyft? New Car Service Aims for Good Vibes

Living in the District means having a car isn’t exactly a necessity, until it is.

Uber swooped into Washington hoping to fill the void with its mobile app connecting the carless-but-connected with its uberTaxi, uberBlack and uberSUV services. The D.C. Taxicab Commission didn’t take kindly to Uber, although the Federal Trade Commission has warned the local commission that coming down hard on Uber and other Web-based car services could stifle innovation.

Against that backdrop, Lyft, a car-sharing service that started in San Francisco, has decided to drive on in.

Lyft, which held a “top-secret kick-off party” earlier this month at 1776-The Penthouse, promises to be “your friend with a car,” complete with its trademark pink fluffy mustache and encouraged driver-driven bonding. Why a pink mustache, you ask? There’s actually a good story behind it.

The pink mustache is a smile, its website says. Its goal is for you to be a little happier at the end of your ride than you were at the beginning.

“What really sets Lyft apart from other services is the community experience,” said Erin Simpson of Lyft. “Riders can sit up front with the drivers, choose the music and have really good conversation.

“We also go above and beyond in the matter of safety,” Simpson said. “Potential drivers are screened through criminal background checks, DMV records, followed by in-person interviews.”

Lyft also has a first-of-its-kind, $1 million per occurrence excess liability insurance policy. Once a ride is complete, passengers are prompted to pay through the app to the extent they’ve enjoyed the experience.

Riders also will  give feedback about drivers, so anyone who isn’t providing comfortable trips will get dumped from the system.

Capitol Bells Toll for Transparency

Perhaps missing the House bells he grew accustomed to while working for Rep. Dale E. Kildee, D-Mich., Ted Henderson started Capitol Bells, an iPhone app that lets users know when House votes are happening and allows them to “vote” in real time with their representative.

The app initially launched in April for members of Congress and their staffs to keep everyone in tune with which votes were happening and when.

Recently, Henderson updated the app, making it available to everyone with an iPhone.

“There has always been a disconnect between the public and Congress,” said Henderson. “This app is trying to make them a part of the process.”

The user chooses his or her district and the bill that is being considered. The user can then vote and the app shows all the voting scores — yea, nay, present, not voting. There’s also the buzzer to remind you time is almost up.

“Congress is there to serve the people, and this is a way for people to express your opinion without just calling the press office, registering your sentiment and not knowing what the outcome of the vote is anyway,” Henderson said.

With this app, representatives will be able to gauge exactly how well they’re representing their most engaged constituents by looking at differences in the past 20 or 30 votes.

The project is far from complete; Henderson hopes to port it to Android by Sept. 9,when Congress is scheduled to be back in session. Windows and a website widget are other platforms Henderson hopes to offer Capitol Bells on in the near future.

After that, he hopes that with more crowdsourcing, he can add tools such as comparing a user’s and representative’s votes, how often the House member votes and whether the votes are in line with the district’s voters/users.

Henderson also plans ambitious updates to include a feature that will allow users to search legislation and promote bills they want their representative to support.

This could start a new public discourse, hashtagging the bill on Twitter alone would pull people in who might not otherwise be tuned in to C-SPAN.

August 9, 2013

With J.J. Going Into Exile, Georgetown Students Want Another Bulldog

First he lost his job. Now he’s losing his home.

J.J., the bulldog mascot for Georgetown University, was “retired” last month, part of a settlement agreement with two parents whose child was bitten by the dog. Then on Thursday, Rev. Christopher Steck, one of J.J.s’ handlers on the campus, announced he was looking for a local family to adopt the bulldog.

With J.J. going into exile, students want to make sure they won’t be losing out on having a live mascot for too long.

Since the 1960s, Georgetown University has had a live mascot, each making his own mark in campus life.

On March 30, 2012, Georgetown announced the donation of a new bulldog puppy “Jack Junior” from San Diego breeders Janice and Marcus Hochstetler, whose children were attending the university. Things didn’t work out for J.J., but there is still a desire among students to have a canine represent the school.

With J.J. Going Into Exile, Georgetown Students Want Another Bulldog

Photo Courtesy of Georgetown University.

Since the July announcement of J.J.’s retirement a  Change.org petition has been created to ensure another live mascot will be chosen. It is supported by Georgetown University Student Association and Hoya Blue.

The petition was posted by the head of the Jack Crew, Nevada Schadler, and already has 342 supporters. The petition asks the university to consider students’ perspectives and ensure that a live mascot will continue to live on campus. The petition has worldwide reach and has gotten signatures from Hoya alumini in Switzerland, Peru, Turkey and the United States.

Hoya Blue, the official student spirit organization, stated on its Facebook page that “Hoya Blue played an integral part in bringing Jack back to campus in the late 90s and we will continue to fight to ensure that this tradition continues for Generations to Come.”

Scott Brown’s ‘Estranged Half Brother’ Arrested for Impersonating Cop

Former Sen. Scott P. Brown’s “estranged half brother” has been charged in Connecticut with impersonating a police officer after authorities say he stopped boaters.

Police say 46-year-old Bruce W. Browne of Wolcott, Conn., stopped three vessels on Long Island Sound on Thursday and asked boaters for their registrations and safety certificates after identifying himself as a police officer.

According to the state police report, after confronting Browne at Point O’ Woods Beach in Old Lyme, police searched his 2004 Crown Victoria and found three loaded 9 mm pistols, a black nylon duty belt with two sets of handcuffs, an expandable baton and 12 fully loaded magazines with a total of 101 hollow point and 102 ball-style 9 mm bullets. Browne also had a bullet-proof vest with the word “police” embroidered on the front and back. Attached to the front was a “silver metal TSA badge.”

The full summary of the incident can be found here.

The former Massachusetts Republican senator released a statement on his Facebook page that only added to the bizarreness of the situation. “For those of you who are asking about the news reports on my estranged half brother, I only know as much as you. I read about it in the news this morning. As you many of you know, my mom and my late father were married and divorced 4 times each. Unfortunately, we were not close as a family. These are serious charges and he will need to answer them. I feel badly for his children and I am thankful that no one was injured,” the statement read.

Browne was charged with impersonating a police officer, breach of peace, interfering with a police officer and possession of a dangerous weapon in a vehicle. Additional charges may be forthcoming as the U.S. Coast Guard is looking at Browne in relation to previous incidents similar to the situation that allegedly transpired in Old Lyme.

Browne was arrested and released on Thursday after posting a $50,000 bond. He is scheduled to appear in district court in New London, Conn., on Aug. 22.

August 8, 2013

The Cure for Sequesteritis? The President’s SAVE Award!

Here’s something for federal employees to ponder in the age of the sequester.

The Friday deadline to submit ideas for the annual Securing Americans Value and Efficiency Award, is fast approaching.

The SAVE award is a contest created by President Barack Obama in 2009, seeking creative ideas from federal employees to help cut the budget, ensure tax payers dollars are spent wisely and improve the way government operates.

The judging criteria focuses on several key points:

  • Improving the quality of output at lower costs; or
  • Simplifying processes to reduce administrative burden; or
  • Improving the speed of government operations to improve efficiency

Only federal employees can submit ideas, and those who plan to submit their ideas must use their federal email address to have a proposal considered. Those who don’t have an idea to submit can still participate — the website is set up like a forum, where you can vote on, agree with or comment on already posted ideas.

According to the White House website, ideas are sent to the relevant agencies to review for potential action, including inclusion in the budget. Over the past four years, more than 85,000 ideas have been submitted and so far approximately 80 have been included in the administration’s budget proposals.

Perhaps this is something for those folks who are taking a sequester-mandated furlough day to work on?

By Diana Oberoi Posted at 2:08 p.m.
Nationwide, POTUS

August 6, 2013

Group Kicks Off ‘Fishy’ Tour

Wondering what the parade of frankenfood was doing traipsing through the streets of Washington on Monday night?

Are We Eating Fishy Food’s tour kicked off on the National Mall on an 11 city-tour to make the case that the public deserves to know when they are eating food with genetically modified organisms.

Group Kicks Off Fishy Tour

(Screenshot)

César Maxit and DC51, an artist collective in Washington, D.C., designed the first of the fishy fleet of cars in 2011. The first car was FishyCorn aka “Poppy.” In January 2013, Maxit designed five more cars including “Goldie” the SharkApple, and “Soyna” the soybean seahorse.

Sixty-four countries require labeling of GMOs, but in the U.S. and Canada, GMO items are commonly found in the grocery store without a label.

Activists behind Are We Eating Fishy Food want companies to provide full disclosure on what makes up our food. On their website, they proclaim, “There is something fishy about GMOs, aka Genetically Modified Organisms, plants or animals which have been genetically altered and would not occur naturally despite what biotech companies claim.”

The group maintains that in this case, labels matter. They want the public to have a right to choose whether they want to buy and eat genetically engineered food.

The tour wraps up in Seattle on Aug. 14th at the Rally for Right to Know.

Philanthropub Needs Charity, New Air Conditioner

Prepay for a cocktail and support a local business. Yes, prepay … and no, it’s not what you’re probably thinking.

Cause, the world’s first “philanthropub” opened last October with the premise “you eat, drink, and be merry, we pay all our bills, and we donate 100% of net profits to charities.” Its charitable donations rotate between different local and international organizations. One Acre FundYear Up and Life Pieces to Masterpieces are on the current receiving list. So, where does the prepaying and drinking come in?

Recently, Cause’s air conditioner unit went on the fritz. Instead of dipping into its own funds and cutting down on the amount of money it can give to its charities, it asked for the public’s support. The philanthropub has an Indiegogo campaign seeking $11,000 to purchase a new air conditioning system. With a little more than a day left in its campaign, Cause is still $10,184 short of its goal.

It’s an exchange, really. Typically when you donate or give a handout, you get nothing in return. Cause plans to give you something in return if you donate to its, well, Cause!

Give $11, and your next drink is on Cause. If you factor in classic cocktails that are $10, you’re essentially prepaying for a drink. Oh, and, please, 21 and over only for this.

For $20, the generous get an “I Drink CAUSE I Care” T-shirt. For $109, it’s dinner and drinks for four — two drinks each, two shareable appetizers and main course of choice. Want a cocktail party for you and nine of your friends? Hand over $500 and that’s what you’ll get!

August 5, 2013

Take Five: Robert Pittenger

It’s time again for Take Five, when HOH talks with a member of Congress about topics relatively unrelated to legislative work. This week Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C., talks about being banished from caffeine and what he’s learned from strong leaders.

Q. You have long days while Congress is in session. Are you a coffee/tea/soda addict now? What is your beverage of choice to get you through the day?

A. My staff won’t let me have caffeine. They say I’m high strung enough without it! The long days and busy schedule have forced me to start wearing rubber-soled shoes. After work, I enjoy a club soda with a splash of cranberry juice, and occasionally a glass of wine.

Q. You began your career in service to your faith. Do you continue working with faith-based projects?

A. Actually, I was in east Asia on a mission trip when I was first contacted about running for Congress. My wife and I met while working for a campus ministry organization, and we continue to be actively involved with several Christian ministry groups.

Q. What is your favorite movie of all time and why?

A. “Patton.” Gen. Patton was a remarkable military leader, and I am always interested in learning from great leaders.

Q. What are your plans over the congressional recess?

A. “Recess” was in the fourth grade when you go outside and play kickball! During August, I will host seven town hall meetings in the district, congratulate summer school graduates and travel to Israel with Majority Leader Eric Cantor. May I have my club soda now?

Q. If you could travel anywhere in the world [some place you have not visited], where would you go, and why?

A. Australia — a beautiful country that is fertile for growth and great opportunity.

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