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The Illustrated Congressmen

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Tattoo artist Matt Knopp, owner of Tattoo Paradise in Adams Morgan, says there is much less stigma attached to tattoos these days. At least a handful of Members of Congress admit to being inked, although none were willing to show off their body art for photographs.

What do Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., soccer legend David Beckham and conservative godfather Barry Goldwater have in common?

All three men have, on more than one occasion, subjected themselves to the exquisite pain of an artist putting ink to skin.

Beckham has more tattoos than most rock stars, Goldwater had Native American tribal work done on his hand and, as for Chicagoland Democrat Jackson? He has two half-sleeves nearly done, complete with portraits of his family and boyhood hero Bruce Lee.

“I believe in body art,” Jackson said, explaining that he tries “to get a new tattoo every year.” On tap for Jackson this year is a collage celebrating the centennial of his fraternity, Omega Psi Phi.

Tattoos are everywhere on Capitol Hill these days. Capitol Police officers have them. Reporters — including this one — do. Lula Davis, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s former right-hand floor aide, sported tattoos in the Capitol for years.

A 2003 Harris Interactive poll found that 16 percent of adults admit to having tattoos these days. And while Democrats had a slight edge on Republicans in the area of body art, the poll did reveal that some tea party sympathizers might be simpatico with body art: According to the poll, 57 percent of those without tattoos see body art as a sign of rebelliousness.

So if, as lawmakers are so fond of saying, Congress is indeed a reflection of America, it would follow that some 60 Members of the House and 16 Senators have found themselves at least once under the gun, so to speak.

And yet, even an informal poll of lawmakers turns up relatively few who are willing to admit being in the Tattoo Caucus.

There’s Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), who’s had numerous sessions with tattoo artists.

Hunter, like Jackson, has most of two half-sleeves complete. A Marine, he says he started getting tattooed at the beginning of each deployment, a practice he’s carried on with his brother. 

“Every deployment I’d gotten a tat, so when he deployed, I got my last one,” Hunter said, noting that his wife — who has had her own work done — has encouraged him to get more, including one on his forearm.

Anecdotal evidence suggests there are plenty of Members with ink. Hunter noted he’s “seen a lot of guys with little ankle tattoos and stuff” in the gym and other settings where Members may be baring more flesh than on the floor of the House.

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