Heard on the Hill

Two Tree Words Stump Congressmen

Alexandra Petri of The Washington Post wins bee with ‘gallica’

Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., was the last politician standing at the National Press Club Spelling Bee. Trees were his downfall. (Alex Gangitano/ CQ Roll Call)

Not everyone in Congress was glued to cable news on Thursday night. Some were spelling.

“Do we have team names? We thought we could be ‘The Representatives,’ and they could be ‘The Enemies of the People,’” said Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, one of four lawmakers to compete in the the National Press Club Spelling Bee. The annual event pits politicians against members of the media.

It was an all-Democratic affair on the members’ side, with Reps. Ted Deutch of Florida, Suzanne Bonamici of Oregon and Mark Takano of California rounding out the team. “None of our Republican colleagues came tonight, so I thought I would represent them,” Raskin said.

Alexandra Petri of The Washington Post was the ultimate victor with back-to-back spellings of “unicameral” (having a single legislative chamber) and “gallica” (a compact fragrant European rose). Alison Fitzgerald Kodjak of NPR, the runner-up, went out on “nymphosis” (the change of an insect into a nymph).

Thursday’s Press vs. Lawmakers Spelling Bee Brought Levity to Tense Week

The lawmakers faltered, especially when it came to trees. Deutch was the last one standing in the final round, which included words from recent spelling bee competitions nationwide. But he stumbled on “flittern” (a young oak).

“You’re the happiest speller ever,” Deutch told Petri after she rattled off “cornucopia.”

[Politicians Lose Press Club Spelling Bee to Media Again]

Raskin had his own arboreal miss. He went out on “deciduous.”

That the contest was taking place on one of the most dramatic days of the current Congress was hardly lost on the crowd. “There’s nothing going on today at all,” joked host Thomas Burr of the Salt Lake Tribune, as aftershocks from the testimony of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser continued to rock the Hill.

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee got a special shoutout. “I can spell as well as Chuck Grassley on Twitter,” Burr said.

Reigning champion Todd Gillman of the Dallas Morning News won in 2017 when he correctly spelled “somatotype” (body type), but this year he was the first contestant to miss a word. In the end he made it to the fourth round, which featured Scottish vocabulary.

Takano had trouble then too. The only contestant to spell a word correctly in that round was Petri with “broose” (a race to the bridegroom’s house after a country wedding).

Tamar Hallerman of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and John M. Donnelly of CQ Roll Call went out in succession, with “sequacious” (intellectually servile) and “diphthong” (a gliding speech sound).

Those words have been trending recently on webster.com, along with “hirsute” and “asylum.”

Officiating the evening was Jacques Bailly, official pronouncer for the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

The first press club bee was held in 1913, and newly elected President Woodrow Wilson was in the audience. The members’ team won. On its 100th anniversary in 2013, the bee was revived, and now raises money for the National Press Club Journalism Institute.

Huge Crowds, Long Lines, Tight Security: What Capitol Hill Was Like on Ford, Kavanaugh Hearing Day

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.