Byrd’s Land Grab

Posted January 14, 2003 at 6:38pm

Sen. Robert Byrd’s (D-W.Va.) demand for more office space in the Capitol may result in the powerful lawmaker taking over a chunk of the “Refectory,” the historic dining hall on the first floor that has served lawmakers and tourists since the mid-19th century.

Byrd’s office, however, stressed that such a move would not close down the Refectory’s candy shop, a midafternoon oasis for folks seeking out a jolt of caffeine or a pack of cigarettes.

After initially refusing to vacate S-128 of the Capitol when Democrats lost the majority, Byrd has finally turned the glorious suite over to new Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). The West Virginian

wound up with S-126 next door, the suite he used when Democrats last held the minority.

But Byrd wants even more space and has his eye on one section of the Refectory, which he wants to convert into an office for his many staffers. Byrd spokesman Tom Gavin confirmed to HOH that the Senator is mulling an offer to take over a section of the Refectory, which would apparently cool the tension that insiders say has developed between Byrd and Stevens over the office flap.

“It’s something the Republicans have offered to Senator Byrd and he’s considering it,” Gavin said of the Refectory space.

The suite would then be designated as part of the space that come with being ranking member. Or it could be carved out as part of the spoils that come with being “President Pro Tempore Emeritus,” the new fancy title for Byrd, who lost his spot in the line of presidential succession to Stevens.

The cafeteria section of the Refectory has been closed since Sept. 11, 2001, because of the drop in tourism after the terrorist attacks. But Capitol Police officers are allowed to sit in the dining room when they bring their own lunch or purchase a snack in the candy shop part of the suite, which has remained open.

The cost of converting the dining hall into Byrd’s office is unclear at this time. Many decades ago, when the Senators’ Dining Room was much smaller than it is today, visitors could find lawmakers and Supreme Court justices alike chowing down in the historic room. There was also a special table reserved for the press, which served as a lunch spot for many legendary scribes over the years.

Davis Cleans House. Republican aides are buzzing about the fact that new House Government Reform Chairman Tom Davis (R-Va.) abruptly dismissed his predecessor’s entire staff.

In what one insider billed as a “bloodbath,” Davis last Thursday told staffers to former Government Reform Chairman Dan Burton (R-Ind.) that they had until Monday to clean out their offices. The staffers have since been given a small extension of time, but plenty of Republican feathers were left ruffled by the move.

A Davis spokesman did not return a call seeking comment.

Fifty-seven Varieties of Jokes. Comedian Mark Russell, who’s famous for putting his jokes to song, has a new ditty about Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) presidential campaign and the chance of tapping his wife Teresa Heinz’s fortune.

“When you put ketchup on your fries,” Russell sang in an interview at his Washington home, “you’re helping Kerry win the prize.”

Russell grew starry-eyed as he pondered the great material he would get if Heinz, who’s known for kicking up all kinds of controversy with her tart tongue, became first lady. “She’d be great, wouldn’t she?” he asked wistfully.

Kerry and many other politicians, especially Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), will be the subject of Russell’s barbs all this week. The comedian is opening tonight at Ford’s Theatre and will take the stage each night through Sunday, including a matinee on Sunday.

Russell poked fun at HOH’s item on Monday suggesting that Lott, who’s in line to oversee the 2005 presidential inauguration as chairman of the Rules and Administration Committee, may want to get some revenge on President Bush.

“You had it all wrong about the trap door,” Russell said. “Actually Bush set a trap for Lott. Bush called Lott and said, ‘I’m supposed to speak at Strom Thurmond’s 100th birthday party but I can’t make it. Will you fill in for me?’”

“Reminisce about ’48,” Bush allegedly told Lott. “They’ll love it.”

Russell is watching the flood of Democratic presidential contenders with glee. “A week ago, who would have thought that the frontrunner would be Bill Richardson?” he said of the New Mexico governor. “It just shows you how isolated the North Koreans are. They thought Richardson is secretary of State.”

And then there’s Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle (S.D.), who’s one of the few Democratic Senators actually sitting out the presidential race.

“Daschle read the handwriting on the wall,” said Russell. “The handwriting said, ‘Al Gore is more popular. Howard Dean is 10 points ahead of you.’”

Noting that Dean is in favor of civil unions and gun rights, Russell cracked, “His main power base is gay hunters from Vermont.”

Russell said he was livid when a Canadian official used the word “moron” to describe Bush. “It really upset me,” he said. “I don’t need some Canadian doing my job. I don’t think he’s a moron. I just think Laura Bush could have done better.”

Shooting From the Hip. CNN may be losing CEO Walter Isaacson, but the troubled network is gaining ex-Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) as a paid commentator.

In an odd bit of timing, CNN officials announced Friday that Barr is becoming a regular contributor “across all of the News Group’s 33 global services, including CNN/U.S., CNN International, Headline News and CNN.com.”

The timing is strange because earlier last week, people close to Barr put out word that the former Member is very interested in jumping into the race to succeed retiring Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.). Barr, who accidentally fired off an antique gun at a fundraiser in his last House campaign, would undoubtedly put new meaning into the word “Crossfire.”

But wouldn’t it be a sticky problem for the Atlanta-based network to give Barr all kinds of airtime on the eve of his expected Senate campaign? A CNN spokeswoman told HOH, “If Bob Barr or any other CNN contributor or employee declares their candidacy for anything other than co-op board president, he or she will not be used on our air as anything more than a guest.”

Meanwhile, CNN has named Paul Steinhauser executive producer of “Inside Politics with Judy Woodruff.” He had been interim executive producer after the show’s senior executive producer, Tom Hannon, was elevated to political director of the entire CNN News Group.

Steinhauser, who does not have a political background, is taking over amid much speculation among politicos about the direction and future of the show. A story in Newsday recently suggested that the program may be on the chopping block, but CNN insiders whisper that after that report in the New York newspaper Isaacson fired off a memo to Woodruff assuring her that the show is on solid ground.

With CNN constantly going to live events, which may or may not be newsworthy on any given day, “Inside Politics” gets bumped on a semi-regular basis for press conferences that usually have no connection to politics. The network has also dumped Brooks Jackson, a seasoned political correspondent who’s well-respected on Capitol Hill.

Steinhauser was previously based in Atlanta as executive producer of the “Live From” show. Before that he was the top producer at “CNN Tonight with Bill Hemmer.”

On the question of the future of “Inside Politics,” the CNN spokeswoman stressed that “every executive from Walter Isaacson on down has declared their commitment to the show and to CNN’s position as the premier television news organization for political coverage.”

Vote Early and Often. Five reporters are battling for three spots on the Standing Committee of Correspondents that will be filled in a Thursday election.

The committee, which oversees the daily press galleries in the Capitol, has some fine candidates for the posts: Mary Agnes Carey of Congressional Quarterly; Jim Drinkard of USA Today; John Godfrey of Dow Jones Newswires; Jesse Holland of The Associated Press; and Susan Mulligan of The Boston Globe.

Meanwhile, Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) released a statement lauding the public service provided by David Holmes, who has retired after serving in the House Periodical Press Gallery since 1974.

A true professional, Holmes helped with press arrangements for two presidential impeachments, nine presidential inaugurals, 16 national presidential conventions, and hundreds of joint and special meetings and sessions of Congress.

“For the past 30 years, David’s work in the periodical gallery helped the media get the information they need to keep Americans informed about their government,” said Hastert. “I thank David for a job well done and wish him the best in his retirement.” 

Holmes has been replaced by Rob Zatkowski, who previously held the post of deputy director for the Senate Periodical Press Gallery.

Free Books, Free Markets. The Cato Institute is handing out free copies of the latest edition of the “Cato Handbook for Congress” in the Gold Room of the Rayburn House Office Building from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. today.

The libertarian think tank, which had a tour stop in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Tuesday, is also giving away some handy-dandy tote bags along with pocket-size copies of the Constitution.

The handbook provides essays of libertarian thought on everything from the economy to foreign policy just in case Members aren’t sure where Cato stands on any given issue.

Meanwhile, the San Francisco Chronicle reports that Richard Blum, wife of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), has pumped $2 million into the Brookings Institution to study ways to reduce global poverty.