Bald Truth. The holidays apparently came a little early for ex-Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas), who was overheard in the Senate barber shop last week getting all giddy about how the one-year ban on lobbying former colleagues just expired for him.
That will undoubtedly be extra lucrative for Gramm, who’s now a rainmaker at Wall Street powerhouse UBS Warburg. With all that cash he’s raking in, couldn’t the Texan afford a more expensive haircut?
More importantly, does he really have that much hair to cut? These urgent questions went unanswered because a UBS Warburg spokeswoman did not return a call seeking comment.
Obscene Development. Although Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) took some criticism for using foul language in a Rolling Stone interview, he didn’t face legal problems. But if he ever drops an F-bomb in a televised presidential debate, he might run afoul of a new anti-profanity law being pitched by Rep. Doug Ose (R-Calif.).
Irate that the F-word was used several times during this year’s Golden Globe Awards, Ose and Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) have introduced a bill to “amend section 1464 of title 18, United States Code, to provide for punishment of certain profane broadcasts” and for other purposes.
Hill staffers were buzzing Friday about the fact that the actual text of H.R. 3687 — available for all to see at the Library of Congress’ normally staid official Web site (THOMAS.loc.gov) — is more obscene than the Golden Globes broadcast.
“As used in this section, the term ‘profane’, used with respect to language, includes the words ‘shit’, ‘piss’, ‘f—’” … well, you get the idea. There are several other words and phrases — which are far nastier — that would be forbidden.
Pressed for an explanation about why the text was so graphic, Ose spokesman Yier Shi told HOH, “Obviously, the FCC needed to have these words spelled out in order for it to act appropriately.”
And just in case anyone is mulling a clever way to get around the ban, the bill spells out that there would also be a prohibition on the “compound use (including hyphenated compounds) of such words and phrases with each other or with other words or phrases, and other grammatical forms of such words and phrases (including verb, adjective, gerund, participle, and infinitive forms).’”
Good thing for Kerry — as well as President Bush, who was quite profane in a magazine chat with Tucker Carlson prior to the 2000 presidential campaign — that their obscenities were uttered in print interviews.
Paris Fossella? Rep. Vito Fossella was none too pleased to read all about a New York Daily News columnist’s claim that the Republican lawmaker is the Paris Hilton of the Empire State’s Hill delegation.
Columnist Richard Schwartz ripped into Fossella for allegedly getting only small bits of pork for his home of Staten Island and the rest of New York City — while upstate lawmakers like Rep. John Sweeney (R) rake in millions for the Big Apple.
“Call John Sweeney New York City’s go-to guy in Washington,” he wrote. “Call Vito Fossella the city’s run-from guy in D.C.”
Schwartz added: “Vito Fossella is the Paris Hilton of Congress: looks good, gets some attention, but has he really done anything?”
Footnote: The New York Post was kinder to Rep. Gregory Meeks (D) last week. A Post story claimed that powerful Democrats are plotting a “super-secret plan” to elect Sen. Charles Schumer (D) governor — with Meeks rumored to be one of three black officials who could be tapped to replace Schumer in the Senate.
Had Enough Parties? There’s a certain boring predictability to the many Washington holiday parties that pop up every winter, but there were at least a couple of non-holiday bashes that shook things up a bit last week.
There was the bevy of Hill staffers who turned out Thursday night at Charlie Palmer Steak to celebrate a big move for Jonathan Karl, who’s leaving the Congressional beat at CNN to become the senior foreign affairs correspondent for ABC News.
Karl has taken some razzing for missing a congratulatory call to his cellphone from Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) on Wednesday. “I remember in the old days you used to be available on the phone,” Kennedy tweaked in his voicemail, and the teasing continued at the Senator’s own holiday party last week.
While Karl will no longer be covering Capitol Hill, he expects to put his political reporting skills to work in his new role. “Something tells me foreign policy is going to be a central issue in the campaign,” he said with a laugh. (It’s only a matter of time until he has Secretary of State Colin Powell in a “Subway Series” like in the old days on CNN’s “Inside Politics” program.)
And then there was the book party thrown last week for Jeff Nussbaum, who just co-wrote a tome with James Carville: “Had Enough? A Handbook for Fighting Back.”
Nussbaum, a former speechwriter for Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), gets credit on the book’s cover — which features a bandaged and black-eyed Carville trying to give Democrats advice on how to make it out of the political wilderness.
The bash featured a surprise appearance by the co-author’s bubbly sister, Cara Nussbaum, who generated so much attention on MTV’s “Real World Chicago.” She was among the friends and family who showed up to read off some book proposals that the co-author allegedly rejected before deciding to work with Carville. They included:
• “Fat, Dumb and Constipated — My Story of Addiction,” by Rush Limbaugh with Jeff Nussbaum.
• “Driving Miss Demeanor,” by Bill Janklow with Jeff Nussbaum.
• “Celebrity: Real World Stories of a Nussbaum,” by Cara Nussbaum with her significantly lesser-known brother Jeff.
• “Had Enough? A Handbook for Home Movies and Country Living,” by Paris Hilton with Jeff Nussbaum.
• “Had Way Too Much — How I had to explain to my eager ghost-writer that he should stop stalking me,” by James Carville without Jeff Nussbaum.
• “Like No Other Senate Speechwriter — The 107th Congress and the one speechwriter who cost us the majority,” by Sen. Tom Daschle without Jeff Nussbaum.
Four Times the Fun. Once Roll Call decided to start publishing four times a week back in September, that meant a quartet of HOH columns for each week that Congress is in session.
So many doses of HOH has undoubtedly led to mixed reaction — depending on who’s appearing in the column in any given week.
But in all seriousness, more columns have meant even more fun. But that much production would not come without the help of devoted tipsters all around Capitol Hill (you know who you are) as well as the tireless help from colleagues at Roll Call. A special shout-out has to go to Paul Kane and John Bresnahan for filling in during HOH’s various vacations.
And in the spirit of the holiday season, please don’t forget to pass along plenty of gossip in the New Year. So keep the the news tips coming at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the meantime, here’s a look back at a year’s worth of hijinks on the Hill:
When Interns Attack. Any discussion about gossip in 2003 has to start with one Paul Kelly Tripplehorn Jr., whose infamous “You Suck” e-mail to a colleague was first reported by RollCall.com.
Young Tripplehorn was pushed out of his internship in the office of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) after penning a nasty e-mail to a female intern about their failed romance. The missive, which was forwarded thousands of times around the Hill during the summer lull, revealed how ugly things can get when preppie love flames out.
“I will always have more friends than you just because I don’t care about beating people and lying to get to the top,” Tripplehorn wrote in the long missive. “(You are an absolute hipocrit [sic] in everything that you do, I am not going to go into details why you are because that would be a waste of my time and yours but I can assure you if you were to ever meet yourself you would hate your twin).”
Proving once again that chivalry is dead and buried, he added to the young lady, “good luck being miserable for the rest of your life.”
That Microphone Is Hot. While most Members roll their eyes at the weak-kneed way in which Washingtonians tend to deal with storms — i.e., buy all the milk in town and run like heck — they usually try to keep their criticism somewhat under wraps.
But there was no such luck for Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), who got caught on C-SPAN2 speaking his mind as Hurricane Isabel inched closer to D.C. this fall.
Burns, who chairs the Appropriations subcommittee on the Interior, reported to work early that morning and was eager to get his spending bill passed through the chamber. But the chairman, who was miked for sound as he prepared for floor debate, was privately informed that with the federal government already closed for business a flurry of Senators had already scurried out of town. So there would be no vote.
In a clear and loud voice, Burns was heard barking, “What a bunch of wimps!”
Demand a Recount, er, Re-park. There are some images just too indelible to erase from your mind.
That’s what HOH thought upon receiving a tip this autumn that Rep. Katherine Harris (R-Fla.) had gotten into a fender-bender early one morning — and emerged unscathed from her SUV in a white tae kwon do outfit.
A gracious Harris, the former Florida secretary of state, called HOH late that evening to confirm that she had indeed accidentally smashed a neighbor’s taillight while trying to parallel park.
The Republican Congresswoman revealed that she likes to train at 6 a.m. with Jhoon Rhee, the well-known martial arts master who has tutored scores of current and former Members. “It helps me keep a healthy balance,” she said.
When teased about whether she may have been letting out some aggression during the parking episode, Harris dropped the sugary voice. “Not even a little bit,” she declared. “I don’t have any aggression.”
Democrats may beg to differ, especially given the fact that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee sent out a fundraising letter last Friday noting that Dec. 12 was “the third anniversary of the day George W. Bush stole the White House” from Democrats.
The letter added that “George W. Bush, Katherine Harris and his right-wing enemies of democracy circumvented the political process and led the way to three long years of harm. Katherine Harris thinks we’ve forgotten. She thinks she can run and win in the 2004 Florida Senate Race. On this anniversary, help us show Katherine Harris that her Florida hijinks have caused enough damage to our country.”
Bear Necessities. As if Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) didn’t have enough problems this year, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) all but threatened to maim his colleague over legislation that would ban hunters from baiting bears with food on federal land.
Young, who once waved a walrus penis at a Congressional hearing to flash his temper at liberal environmentalists, took aim after Moran testified about his bill to the House Resources Committee in June.
“I wish I had my native people in here right now,” Young declared. “You’d walk out of here with no head on.” (He did not specify whether the body part of any particular animals would be used in the beating.)
Fork in the Road, er, Windshield. This was the year that the Hammer’s flack almost got killed by The Pitchfork.
Stuart Roy, communications director for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), was involved in a freak accident in November in which a pitchfork traveling at 100 miles per hour pierced the windshield of his SUV and came within inches of decapitating him.
“It was a cross between ‘American Gothic’ and ‘Green Acres,’” Roy told HOH. “It was totally bizarre.”
Ironically enough, Roy’s near-death experience was caused by the Medicare reform bill — which is supposed to make people healthier. With the deal on the legislation forged late on a Saturday night, the staffer had to drive from his Alexandria, Va., home to the Capitol at about noon the following day to attend a press briefing on the conference report.
He took the same route he’s been traveling for 13 years to get to work on Capitol Hill: the Woodrow Wilson Bridge to I-295. On the bridge, however, a pitchfork came loose from a truck traveling in the opposite direction from Roy.
“Suddenly glass is everywhere so I slammed on the brakes,” Roy recounted. “I closed my eyes and opened my mouth. Glass gets in my mouth, so I started spitting it out. I look up and there’s a pitchfork staring me in the face.”
The staffer doesn’t know how he didn’t crash into a retaining wall or careen into another vehicle.
Roy was a star on various local TV and radio outlets and was pelted with e-mails from friends razzing him about his good fortune. The staffer’s wife, Shelly, cracked to her husband: “If you die by way of the pitchfork, it’s probably not a good sign as to which way you’re headed.”
Frankly Speaking. While “metrosexual” has become a buzz word this summer, who knew that Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) was the prototypical “shmomosexual” in Congress?
A “metrosexual” is said to be a straight male in touch with his sensitive side. The New York Observer describes a “shmomosexual” as a “Joe Shmo” kind of guy — only gay — who’s a little too smart, dresses sloppy and is utterly untelegenic.
Frank, the openly gay lawmaker, told HOH that he has no clue what “metrosexual” means — let alone the newer term.
“I must say that I never heard the word ‘metrosexual’ — is that a lesbian taking a subway?” he cracked.
Trick or Treat? After a gun scare in the Cannon House Office Building turned into an odd pre-Halloween misunderstanding, horror was transformed to humor in a hurry.
House staffers almost immediately started e-mailing one another a fake warning to Capitol Police officers about Halloween costumes to watch out for on Halloween. The e-mail included images of everyone from cowboys to military personnel with weapons locked and loaded.
There were also a slew of wise cracks flying over the fact that the never publicity-shy Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) appeared to be the first Member to get on the air, doing a telephone interview with MSNBC from his Cannon office as the story unfolded.
Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), meanwhile, couldn’t stop laughing — or getting publicity — over the fact that the General Accounting Office just so happened to pick Thursday to release a report that he had requested from the agency. The title: “Information Generally Not Available on Toy Gun Issues Related to Crime, Injuries or Deaths, and Long-Term Impact.”
Since the incident was sparked by two staffers for Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), the kicker came the day after the controversy, when House leaders circulated the floor schedule for the following week. There were 20 bills that would be considered under suspension.
No. 11 — “H.R. 2898 — E-911 Implementation Act of 2003 (Shimkus — Energy & Commerce)” — had nothing to do with any emergency calls placed from the Congressman’s office.
Graham Cools His Heels. The final indignity for Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), whose presidential campaign never quite caught fire, came on Larry King’s CNN program.
That fall afternoon, Graham’s campaign Web site touted that he would be making a “major announcement” at 9:30 p.m. EST on “Larry King Live.” Since the program starts at 9 p.m., that meant CNN was spending the first half hour on some major international news, right?
Well, not exactly. King kicked off the show with a discussion of Las Vegas legend Roy Horn, who had been mauled by one of his white tigers a few days earlier. While it was a horrible development, it was not exactly breaking news.
But King kept rolling for the first 30 minutes with color commentary from Wayne Newton, Penn Jillette and Jack Hanna. When the show reached the half-hour mark there was still no sign of Graham.
One wag suggested that King should have tried this segue to get the candidate on screen: “Senator, I think it’s safe to say that you’ve been mauled in the press lately over your low fundraising numbers and your complete lack of traction anywhere in the country. Tell us what Roy is feeling tonight.”
Graham finally appeared on screen with about 10 minutes left in the show, and he looked less than happy about having to cool his heels. King, who got his start in Florida, greeted the Senator by noting their long friendship — which left viewers wondering how long the host would string along an enemy.
Bad Connection. In a stunning scene played out at the end of a long profile of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R) in the New York Times Magazine, the Tennessean was depicted sandbagging one of his colleagues.
Frist placed a call to an unnamed freshman Senator and decided to put the lawmaker on speakerphone. This allowed writer David Grann to sit in on the call without Frist letting the freshman know that his words are being documented by a journalist. “Did I get you out of the most important meeting now?” asks Frist.
“Well, I’ll tell you what, if I had to sit there any longer and listen to Leahy and Schumer [expletive] and moan,” the freshman said of two Judiciary Committee colleagues.
Frist proceeded to ask the unnamed Senator if he will take care of the annual laborious chore of reciting George Washington’s Farewell Address on the Senate floor for Presidents’ Day. “I don’t have to wear a wig, do I?” cracked the freshman.
Wait a second: A freshman on the Judiciary Committee who delivered this year’s Washington address? That person could be none other than Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.).
The Times piece then offered a fascinating inside view of how executive branch nominations are doled out in the Frist Senate.
Chambliss proceeded to hit the Majority Leader up for a favor because a “major Republican donor” wants an ambassadorship to an overseas economic development organization. “I don’t even know what the hell it is,” Chambliss admits, “but he wants it.”
After a moment of contemplation, Frist responds, “He has lots of dollar figures down there?”
“That’s exactly right,” said Chambliss. “And he did raise a chunk of money for me.”
“All right,” Frist said. “You’re a good man.”
This stirred the interest, to say the least, of Democrats. After all, the Clinton administration was pilloried for allegedly auctioning off ambassadorships and the like to the highest bidder among campaign donors.
“It’s crass and messy even by modern Republican standards,” one senior Democratic aide cracked. “Let’s hope they sterilized the room after that operation.”
Common Cause demanded an investigation, but the story blew over — and Chambliss said he wasn’t mad at Frist anyway.
Say It Ain’t So, Joe. Rep. Joe Baca (D-Calif.) thought he had found a clever way to puff up his achievements back home.
The only problem is that it turns out Baca told an awfully tall tale when he claimed that he had given House Appropriations Chairman Bill Young (R-Fla.) golf lessons in exchange for a $1 million pork project.
Baca blabbed to a San Bernardino Sun columnist about his genius way of bringing home the bacon, resulting in a headline “‘Workin’ Joe’ Works Some Magic On Golf Course in Favor of Bridge.”
The item proceeded to reveal that Baca had been “helping” Young with his game.
The story then quoted Baca as saying, “The golf lessons that I gave him paid off,” in what would have been incredibly bad form if true.
But HOH called Young’s longtime chief of staff, Harry Glenn, who revealed: “Chairman Young does not play golf.”
HOH then called Baca spokeswoman Laura O’Neill, who didn’t let on that there had been any correction to the column or any other problem. Upon being told that Young does not play golf, however, there was a bit of a pause.
After a few hours, a prepared statement arrived by e-mail. “We don’t know if Bill Young has ever in fact even golfed with my boss, but it doesn’t matter,” said O’Neill. “That is very much his sense of humor to say something like this.”
Slippery When Wet. Some Democratic Members had a little trouble keeping their feet this year.
There was Rep. Karen McCarthy (D-Mo.), who fell down an escalator while inebriated early in the year and then sought treatment for alcohol. Later in the year, she was spotted sporting a crutch and a cane around the Capitol.
McCarthy’s chief of staff at the time, Phil Scaglia, told HOH that his boss apparently “slipped” on floor wax in the Longworth House Office Building.
Meanwhile, freshman Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) made quite a scene on the House floor in the wee hours of the morning.
Sanchez, who says that her heel got caught, startled colleagues when she fell down a set of stairs in one corner of the House chamber. A set of colleagues helped Sanchez into the Speaker’s Lobby and then onto a balcony to get some air, sparking a flurry of speculation about the incident.
After HOH placed several calls to Sanchez to find out what happened, spokeswoman Betsy Arnold offered a written statement.
“She was helped to her feet but felt dizzy and nauseated,” Arnold said, adding that her boss had a bruised backbone. “Although not feeling well, she insisted on staying to make the last vote on the tax bill. It’s a shame that people are so quick to cast aspersions when the Congresswoman unfortunately suffered from an accident.”
Berry Big Problem. Just a few days after Rep. Mike Ferguson (R-N.J.) nearly lost his official Member lapel pin at a Georgetown bar, Rep. Dennis Moore (D-Kan.) misplaced his BlackBerry wireless device at a Capitol Hill saloon.
The wireless e-mail device was last seen atop the bar at Lounge 201, the swank hangout where Moore was sipping glasses of chardonnay into the wee hours of April 8. “I lost it somewhere,” Moore told HOH the following day. “We called over [to Lounge 201] and they said they didn’t have it.”
Democratic aides had been sniping about security concerns raised by the fact that Ferguson’s lapel pin — which allows the bearer to skip metal detectors on the Hill — wound up in the hands of a young female student at Georgetown University.
So Republican aides started slinging arrows at Moore for misplacing his BlackBerry during a late night of drinking. The devices were handed out by the Capitol Police after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks so that Members would have a means of receiving secure information in the event of another catastrophe.
In particular, GOP aides present that night raised questions about whether the 57-year-old Moore was distracted by the attention he was showering on a particular young woman.
“I was not rubbing anybody’s back,” Moore, the married father of seven children, stressed to HOH in response to Republican whispers. “But I do have a habit, if I’m talking to someone, of my putting my hand on their shoulder.”
Gods and Press Secretaries. Ken Johnson, the outspoken spokesman for House Energy and Commerce Chairman Billy Tauzin (R-La.), made quite a scene earlier this year at a meeting of GOP communicators.
With people buzzing about the Civil War flick “Gods and Generals,” Johnson employed references to the war between the states to exhort his colleagues to get ready to battle Democrats on the issue of medical liability legislation. And not surprisingly, the high-profile staffer puffed himself up in the process.
“You know, Billy is sort of like Robert E. Lee — the strategic thinker,” said Johnson, who if he worked for anybody else might be guilty of breaking the cardinal rule of not getting more headlines than your boss. “I’m much more like Stonewall Jackson, where I’m always charging ahead.”
Noting that the speech went on and on, one GOP observer noted, “The movie is like 3 hours and 45 minutes. And Ken’s speech was coming in a close second.”
Johnson took the ribbing in stride. “I’ve been bush-whacked. But that’s OK,” he told HOH. “The next time the group asks me to speak, I’m going to give them my ‘Gone with the Wind’ analogy.”
In other words, he didn’t give a darn.