Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
August 31, 2015

February 26, 2014

Reykjavik Provides ‘Simply the Best’ Party Pitch We’ve Ever Seen

REYKJAVIK, Iceland — A Marist College poll released Wednesday shows District Mayor Vincent Gray ahead of a crowded pack of candidates vying to capture the Democratic mayoral nomination on April 1. But when queried about their level of excitement for the upcoming race, only 32 percent of Democrats polled claimed to be “very enthusiastic” about voting. That number might be different if we were in Iceland, where the mayor here told a magazine he would only work with politicians who have watched “The Wire” and agree it was the best thing to happen to TV.

Reykjavik Mayor Jón Gnarr, a comedian turned elected official, took office in 2010 after running mostly on a lark as a Best Party candidate. He promised to “do away with all debt,” get a polar bear for the Reykjavik Zoo and to economize, saying, “We only need one Santa!”

The Best Party platform is worth digging into. Thankfully, they’ve made that an entertaining task by shooting a “We Are the World”-esque music video laying out their priorities to the tune of, you guessed it, “Simply the Best.” (The production values are impressive, but we’d expect nothing less from a party that counts the Sugarcubes’ Einar Örn Benediktsson as a member; he joined the city council in the same election cycle.)

Unfortunately for us, the mayor announced in the fall he would not seek re-election, which means we only have until May to enjoy his antics.

Sure, Gray attends the 17th Street High Heel Race, but being photographed with drag queens is different than donning the wig and gold earrings yourself, as Gnarr did in 2010 at the Icelandic capital’s Pride parade.

Reporter to Boehner: Nice Tan, Sir (Video)

Speaker John A. Boehner has a special affinity for poking fun at reporters’ sartorial decisions. But on Wednesday, it was Boehner who found himself on the butt end of a joke.

The Ohio Republican began his question and answer session Wednesday morning with some classic schoolyard sarcasm regarding Bloomberg reporter Derek Wallbank’s decision to wear a light purple button-down Wednesday.

“Nice shirt,” the Speaker said.

Wallbank took the comment — or at least tried to take the comment — as a compliment.

“Thank you, sir,” he said. Full story

February 25, 2014

Regilding of Union Station Continues Apace

In August 2011, a 5.4-magnitude earthquake rocked Union Station, cracking the ornate, vaulted ceiling above the transportation hub’s Main Hall.

Structural repairs began immediately, and it was soon realized that the iconic building, where generations of powerful people have arrived by train and walked to Capitol Hill to lead the nation, would need further work to preserve its historic integrity. More than 100,000 people pass through the station each day, and it is the busiest Metro stop in the District, serving about 32,000 Red Line riders every weekday.

On Tuesday, the groups behind a $350,000 grant to regild the aged ceiling and restore its original grandeur — American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation — gave the media a peek at the ongoing repairs.

DSC_3437.jpg

The team led reporters on a climb to the surface of the 96-foot barrel-vaulted ceiling, up a scaffolding tower constructed by the same company that raised scaffolding for projects at the National Cathedral and the Washington Monument.

To date, only 20 percent of the ceiling has been restored and regilded with a 23-karat goldleaf material, promised to be more lustrous and more durable than the current 22-karat finish. As repairs continue, the scaffolding will roll the entire length of Main Hall, from east to west.

When repairs are completed in 2016, officials promise the Main Hall will be returned to the grandeur and elegance it had when it opened to the public in 1908.

Priscilla Presley, Paul Williams Storm the Hill; More Celebs to Come

The latest smattering of fast falling flakes to blanket the area could not keep advocacy-minded entertainers away from the Capitol on Tuesday. And there’s still more help from Hollywood already on the way.

Actress-turned-animal-rights-activist and former Elvis spouse Priscilla Presley made the rounds on behalf of the Humane Society, stumping for equine rights and relief from soring.

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

A tipster placed Presley at neighboring 701 Restaurant the night before, sharing that the world famous “Naked Gun” co-star broke bread for several hours with friends at the pol-pleasing establishment.

Paul Williams, ’70s-songwriter-turned-president and chairman of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, proved that he’s still a big man on this campus by tag-teaming pressers across Capitol Hill.

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Williams helped usher in the new Library of Congress exhibit, “ASCAP: One Hundred Years and Beyond” and shared his thoughts with lawmakers about music royalties.

Bono, meanwhile, didn’t make it all the way to the halls of Congress — sending, instead, 250-odd friends to share his concerns with lawmakers.

(Courtesy Ralph Alswang)

(Courtesy Ralph Alswang)

A tipster said the U2 frontman surprised members of his ONE Campaign by popping into town Feb. 22 for a brief visit during which he “thanked the volunteers for their time and dedication to the fight against extreme global poverty.” The pep talk must have worked: ONE aides from more than 44 states were expected to take 222 meetings with House and Senate staffers Tuesday.

And the celeb worship is far from over.

Come Wednesday, the Dirksen Senate Office Building will be the place to be, thanks to dueling hearings featuring a pair of Tinsel Town heavies.

Actor/screenwriter Seth Rogen kicks things of at 2 p.m. by joining ex-Rep. Dennis Moore, D-Kan., for the second round of questioning during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education hearing about Alzheimer’s. Rogen, whose mother-in-law has the debilitating disease, serves as a “celebrity champion” for the National Alzheimer’s Association.

Not to be outdone, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has snagged Academy Award-winning director — and the next in line to don Batman’s iconic cowl — Ben Affleck for a discussion poised to begin at 2:15 regarding peace prospects in the Republic of Congo. Affleck co-founded the philanthropic Eastern Congo Initiative in 2010.

Internet Confused About John Walsh, the College Years

Newly minted Sen. John Walsh is no stranger to academia, having bounced between three repositories of higher learning before securing a Master of Arts from the U.S. Army War College.

But if one were to believe the incongruous résumés available online, the source of his undergraduate degree is more puzzling than textbook.

CQ Roll Call’s official biography lists the Montana Democrat as having attended Carroll College (1984); he later graduated from distance learning-friendly Regents College (1990) with a Bachelor of Science.

Back then, Regents operated within the statewide scholastic network overseen by the overarching University of the State of New York. The school was rebranded as Excelsior College in 2001  — and we have not even gotten to the widespread goofiness yet.

On his campaign website, Walsh acknowledges the brief stint at Carroll College. He also, rather curiously, lists himself as having attended SUNY — the State University of New York.

The government-run biographical directory of the United States Congress does Walsh one better, not only placing him at SUNY but also bestowing bragging rights to having snagged his sheepskin in Albany.

While the five dozen-odd SUNY campuses do fall under the purview of USNY, the two organizational structures are not interchangeable.

Whether this is all predicated on a single, mistakenly transcribed character or an elaborate plot to rewrite history remains unclear. All we got from Team Walsh was a confirmation (“I double-checked with the Senator, and he did graduate from USNY (not SUNY),” his office relayed via email) of what we already knew.

African-American Senators Reflect on Their Own History

 Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., left, speaks during the "Honoring our Past and Celebrating our Future: Discussing Personal Journeys and a Nation's Progress with America's Black Senators" event, hosted by Sen. Scott on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. Also pictured are U.S. Senate Chaplain Barry Black, former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, D-Ill., and former Sen. Roland Burris, D-Ill. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Tim Scott, U.S. Senate Chaplain Barry Black, and former Sens. Carol Moseley Braun and Roland Burris at an event to honor America’s black senators. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Chaplain Barry Black stood in front of a packed auditorium Tuesday and discussed one of the two times he was late to open the Senate because of D.C. traffic.

Former Sen. William “Mo” Cowan of Massachusetts had been the freshman Democrat delegated that day to preside over the chamber and gavel Black in. Though Black said he is loathe to pick favorites among lawmakers and parishioners, Cowan is one because on that morning, he offered the Senate prayer in the chaplain’s place.

“Fortunately, No. 1, he’s African-American. No. 2 he has a bald head, and No. 3 he wears bow ties,” Black joked with a mostly African-American crowd at the Library of Congress, there for a Black History Month panel organized by Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C. Black noted that several people could and had confused him with Cowan, who is one of only nine African-Americans to ever serve in the Senate.

Black’s anecdote was a joke, but in telling it, he shined light on an unfunny truth: Minority politicians are still the outlier in the Senate and its history. Full story

February 24, 2014

John Dingell, Ready to Sell the Bear’s Hide

Rep. John D. Dingell, D-Mich., and Roll Call have grown together on Capitol Hill, having both arrived in 1955. Now, with Dingell announcing his plans to retire at the end of the 113th Congress, it’s worth noting that over the half-century-plus of his tenure, he has remained remarkably consistent in his larger-than-life presence, coupled with his love of blunt, saucy language. This just so happens to fit right into HOH’s wheelhouse.

On the occasion of Roll Call’s 50th commemorative edition in 2005, as well as his own half-century of service, the dean of the House wrote: “I do wonder what the Speaker who first swore me into office — the great Sam Rayburn (D-Texas) — would say about this milestone year for both Roll Call and me if he were still around. I might be, let us say, colorful — but I guarantee you one thing, it would be brilliant. Sam knew how to craft a sound bite before CNN was a glimmer in Ted Turner’s eye.”

Dingell could well have been referring to himself. Sound bites, pull quotes, whatever you call them, Dingell can serve them up with the best. Full story

By Jason Dick Posted at 6:22 p.m.
Baller

John Dingell — Young Whipper Snapper

Rep. John D. Dingell, D-Mich., has been around Congress so long, it’s easy to forget he was once the youngest member of the House. But we have proof, as can be seen in this image from the Jan. 10, 1957, edition of Roll Call, that the dean of the House was once among its cubs.

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Dingell, who at 30 years old was the youngest member of Congress, discusses the upcoming 85th Congress with Sen. Theodore Francis Green, D-R.I., who at 89 was the oldest member of Congress.

Connolly Invites Pols to One-Man Show on Breast Cancer

Sam Simon is bringing his one-man show about coming to grips with potentially losing a loved one to Capitol Hill on Tuesday, a tumultuous journey he’s honored to share with lawmakers thanks to fellow theater buff Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, D-Va.

(Courtesy Sam Simon)

(Courtesy Sam Simon)

The Actual Dance” chronicles Simon’s attempt at negotiating the dizzying circumstances surrounding his wife’s breast cancer diagnosis. The life-affirming show — “There is a happy ending,” Simon assured HOH — is scheduled to start at 5 p.m. in Rayburn B-340.

Those interested in attending are encouraged to RSVP online, though a Connolly aide suggested “all who come will be admitted.”

Though they are both active in the community theater world, Simon said he and Connolly have not yet graced the same stage. The pair has, however, known each other dating back to Connolly’s days as a district supervisor in neighboring Fairfax County. “I would call him a longtime family and political friend,” Simon said.

While Connolly has not yet viewed this particular piece (“Everybody around him has seen it,” Simon estimated), Simon is certain it will strike a chord with the former seminarian.

“I think his interest [is] as much about the topic and its meaning as it is about the show itself,” Simon posited, adding that he’s deeply impressed by Connolly’s “faith and his understanding of people.”

Simon said he has staged the deeply personal performance 30 times since last spring — “This is a rare male voice in the breast cancer journey,” he said. And the most fulfilling part, without fail, remains the open and honest discussions that bubble up within the audience after the show comes to a close.

This time around, he’s very much hoping members who deal with health and aging issues will come and listen. “This isn’t a specific agenda. There is no policy change we are looking for,” he pledged.

February 23, 2014

The Olympic Flame, Burning in Ukraine, Syria? | Capitol Quip

CapitolQuip-02-24-14.jpg

This year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, has taken place in the shadow of questions about Russia’s policies toward the regimes (and violence) in Ukraine and Syria. That brings us to this week’s Capitol Quip.

Send us a caption for this week’s contest by leaving it in the comments section. Editors will pick five finalists on Wednesday, and everyone can vote for the winner through Thursday.

To see our previous winners, check us out on Pinterest.

By Jason Dick Posted at 7:05 p.m.
Capitol Quip

Congress Hath No Fury Like Voters Scorned | Capitol Quip

CapitolQuip02-17-14-Final.jpg

Thanks to the many readers who contributed captions for last week’s Capitol Quip contest. Here’s the winning entry, as voted by readers of Heard on the Hill.

The winner will receive a signed color print suitable for framing from Roll Call cartoonist R.J. Matson. Check out our past winners on Pinterest.

By Jason Dick Posted at 7 p.m.
Capitol Quip

February 21, 2014

Ex-Rep. Mel Reynolds Ducks Zimbabwean Porn Charge

Former House lawmaker Mel Reynolds has been kicked out of Zimbabwe due to immigration issues but will not have to stand trial on since-dismissed pornography charges.

As reported by the Chicago Tribune, the trouble-prone pol — who was arrested earlier this week — pleaded guilty Feb. 21 to overstaying his welcome in the African nation and was subsequently ordered to leave the country. Full story

By Warren Rojas Posted at 3:58 p.m.
Reps, ScandalFaced, Whuck

Fact-Checking ‘House of Cards’ and Its ‘Senate of Cards’ Sequence

By now, most binge-watchers have at least gotten through the first portion of the new season of the Netflix series “House of Cards.”

While we’ll steer clear of too many spoilers here, one particular sequence in the third episode caught the attention of parliamentary experts everywhere.

“We have to get medieval,” said the fictional Democratic Vice President Frank Underwood before a stint presiding over the Senate, twisting arms to get a deal with enough of the Senate’s GOP majority to keep the government from a shutdown while raising the retirement age.

Could the Senate really direct the sergeant-at-arms to arrest absent senators? Yes, of course.

Roll Call was there in 1988, when, acting on the direction of Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., and an order of the Senate, Sergeant-at-Arms Henry Giugni set off from the chamber to arrest missing senators:

A Russell Building cleaning lady told Giugni that Sen. Robert Packwood (R-Ore.) was in his personal office. Using a pass key, Giugni opened the door just as Packwood tried to block it with his arm. Packwood ended up reinjuring a broken finger.

Full story

By Niels Lesniewski Posted at 2:31 p.m.
TV Land

Brothel Responds to Reid’s Prostitutes/2016 GOP Convention Remarks

One of Nevada’s legal brothels is rebutting Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s argument that the state’s prostitution industry could be a reason Las Vegas loses out on hosting the 2016 Republican National Convention.

Sheri’s Ranch Brothel points to the rates of sex trafficking in Tampa, Fla., as not exactly a disqualifying factor in the city’s hosting of the 2012 Republican convention.

“These serious prostitution-related issues didn’t seem to bother Republicans when they considered Tampa, so why would they have an issue with a state that enforces legal prostitution? After all, Nevada’s licensed brothels only allow safe sex between mature consenting adults in a secure, STD-free environment,” the brothel said in its response. “Sex trafficking and child prostitution are abhorred by representatives of the legal Nevada sex work community.”

Full story

Beware the Facebook Conversation That Spurs Birther Debate

An incredulous Redditor is trying to wrap his head around how anyone can so loathe President Barack Obama they would consciously — and deliberately — choose to cling to outright fabrications rather than cut 44 some slack.

Conversation starter Bleach3825 suffered the jarring revelation after confronting, initially on Facebook, a high-school acquaintance about her seemingly rabid disdain for POTUS.

After presenting her with what he apparently believed was adequate proof that Obama is a native-born American and questioning her unwavering allegiance to the citizenship-denying camp, the dissenting party only dug in deeper:

(CQ Roll Call photo illustration)

(CQ Roll Call Photo Illustration)

“Don’t really care if it is accurate or not at this point. Interesting fiction is still entertaining,” the die-hard detractor declared on Facebook.

How can you argue with that?

Not sure if there’s any room in your echo chamber for a little theme music, but this one’s for you, Madam Hater:

Rock. On.

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