As if they needed any more signs that they were on the short end of the power game, House Democrats last week suffered through a comedy of errors — ranging from an electricity outage to having one of their buses break down — during their issues retreat at the Homestead Resort in rural Virginia.
“Yes, power malfunction but fortunately, no wardrobe malfunction,” Brendan Daly, spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), e-mailed HOH about the problems that short-circuited the strategy sessions.
The series of slip-ups started Thursday when one of the Democrats’ buses
transporting Members, staffers and family to the retreat gave out. Democrats were prepared, with extra space in the caravan because of a similar problem they experienced a couple of years ago.
But after they got everything rolling again, Democrats happened upon a major accident on the ice-covered mountain road that shut down traffic for 30 minutes.
Adding to the discomfort was the fact that some Members were not pleased with the harsh language featured in one of the movies — “Phone Booth” — entertaining the adults on the long ride.
“Due to the overwhelming success of ‘Finding Nemo’ on the Family Bus, we will be playing it safe on the return trip by showing ‘Bambi’ and ‘Cinderella’ on ALL buses to avoid any conflict,” cracked one staffer.
Then there was the fact that former President Bill Clinton, the featured speaker for Thursday night’s festivities, had to deal with a long delay as his plane tried to land near the resort. That may in part explain why several attendees later grumbled that Clinton did not seem to be as “on” as he usually is at such a partisan function.
Finally, Democrats woke up Friday morning to find out there had been a power outage. They could not use microphones or slide shows at their morning meetings that were supposed to help map out how they will take back the majority.
The minority did, however, take some solace over enjoying breakfast in the dark. “Members did enjoy a cozy candle-light breakfast,” joked Andrew Kauders, spokesman for House Democratic Caucus Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.).
Got Bubble Bath? Democrats may be able to take a tiny bit of comfort in the fact that there was a comedic postscript to the GOP’s own legislative retreat the previous week.
Lori Salley, chief of staff to House GOP Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce (Ohio), circulated an e-mail last Thursday suggesting there had been a little problem.
“It has come to our attention that some Members who attended the Republican Retreat in Philadelphia did not receive their Bath and Body Works gift bag,” wrote Salley. “If your boss did not receive his or her gift, please let me know.”
HOH is assuming that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) was miffed about not being able to pick up his apple-pear hand lotion with matching peach aromatherapy candle.
Pryce spokesman Greg Crist, however, said the boss merely wanted to make sure her colleagues had hand soap, a candle and a bar of soap from an Ohio company.
“Don’t be surprised if you see that soap again on the House floor when Democrats start spewing their rhetoric,” he cracked.
No Doubting Thomas — Or Corzine. When Members take the podium for some stand-up comedy at the annual Washington Press Club Foundation Congressional Dinner, it’s usually a zero-sum game.
One Member rocks and leaves the audience wanting more, while the other lawmaker just leaves ’em groaning. Not this year.
Sen. Jon Corzine (D-N.J.) and House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) had completely different acts at the 50th annual dinner last Wednesday. But they both scored high marks, with Thomas seeming to have a slight edge based on audience reaction. That was also the scuttlebutt in the Marriott bar after the dinner (or so we’re told).
Emcee Gwen Ifill got the ribbing off on the right foot with some nice zingers, taking a gander at Corzine and Thomas and remarking, “these two gentlemen prove that you don’t need to be a pretty boy” to succeed in politics.
Corzine based his speech on one-liners, which were quite good, but his delivery was a bit shaky as he stepped on some of his jokes. He started well by noting there were less Democrats than Republicans on the dais, which suggested to him that “Congressman DeLay has already redistricted the head table.”
Corzine likened serving as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee as being “somewhere between being Michael Jackson’s lawyer and his plastic surgeon.”
Corzine also poked fun at the fact that TV cameras panned to quarterback Tom Brady after President Bush’s call for a crackdown on steroid use during the State of the Union address.
“If there’s anyone in that room benefiting from performance-enhancing drugs, it’s Elizabeth Dole,” he cracked of his Republican colleague from North Carolina, wife of a well-known Viagra pitchman.
Thomas, meanwhile, ad-libbed a good bit of his routine yet delivered his material with pinpoint precision. He started by noting that Democrats were being represented at the event by a wealthy Manhattan investment banker.
“The Republicans are represented by a teacher from Bakersfield who, frankly, took the job for the money,” he tweaked.
As for Corzine spending $63 million to win his Senate seat and winding up in the minority, Thomas said, “I bet you thought you were buying the majority.”
He added that both men listed “N/A” on their financial disclosure forms. “But his was ‘North America,’” Thomas said.
But Thomas, known for his complexity as well as calling the Capitol Police on House Democrats last year, scored particularly well with the self-deprecating material: “When you ask me what time it is, I give you an answer on how to build a watch … factory.”
Thomas brought the house down with a video cut with the help of a couple of anchors from a TV station in his home district. Each anchor asked complicated questions (lasting about 30 seconds apiece) that were chock full of Thomas-like complexity.
And each time, Thomas gave one-word answers — the type that he knows can drive Congressional scribes mad.
He wrapped up with a look at his New Year’s resolutions, which included: “I will remove the Capitol Police from my speed dial.”
Free Parking? The feistiness from the press dinner continued outside of the J.W. Marriott for Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), who was overheard lighting up one of the valets for charging $25 a car.
The normally mild-mannered accountant demanded to see a manager as he railed to the valet that the hotel had not clearly disclosed the fee when guests arrived.
“It wasn’t posted!” Sherman, who nonetheless paid the tab, yelled.
Sherman spokesman Matt Farrauto later told HOH that the boss is planning to contact D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams (D) to suggest that there be a maximum fee that hotels can charge at black-tie dinners — as well as get some regulation of the disclosure.
“Twenty-five dollars for two hours of parking seems outrageous,” said Farrauto. “He’s a staunch advocate for consumer protection.”
Marriott spokesman Rand Goodman said the fee is clearly posted on a large brass plaque and said the rate is competitive in the city. “Any hotel you go to in the city — it’s at least $25 to park,” he said. “You go to New York and it’s $47.”
While Goodman acknowledged that other facilities within a block of the hotel charge much less, he said the hotel does not own a garage. “We only have so many spots” to rent, he said.
Still, he stressed, “We certainly don’t want guests to leave unhappy.”
Jobs, Jobs, Jobs. It’s nice to hear that retiring Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) is relying on the classified section of Roll Call to help in his job search.
This nugget was uncovered when Breaux headed behind closed doors last Wednesday with Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) for this year’s first meeting of the Centrist Coalition in the Capitol.
Nelson entered Room S-224 and ran up to Breaux with a copy of Roll Call opened to the classified section and some job opportunities circled.
“I brought you this because you’ve been such a good source for Roll Call over the years I thought they would now be a good source for you,” Nelson told Breaux.
“Oh great,” Breaux said as he scanned the pages. “Republican intern. What does that pay?”
Breaux brought down the house, meanwhile, when he referred to the meandering job search of his fellow Louisiana lawmaker, House Energy and Commerce Chairman Billy Tauzin (R).
“What I’ve learned from Tauzin is that I need to know what the job pays before I accept it,” cracked Breaux.
Durbin vs. Schumer. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) better be careful the next time he decides to invite the media into “his” home, having now gone two-for-two in getting coverage for working out of his bedroom with staffers after the anthrax attacks in the fall of 2001 and last week’s ricin attack.
With the office buildings closed after anthrax, Schumer — never shy about seeking out the spotlight — managed to secure a photo in Roll Call and got CNN to do a quick feature on how the hard-working New Yorker had gathered his staff in his D.C. house to keep working.
And then last Wednesday’s New York Times included a large, four-column photo of Schumer and four of his aides working out of what the photo caption said was “his Washington home.”
In his rush to get some publicity, Schumer apparently forgot to mention that he has long shared the part-time residence — affectionately known as “Animal House” — with several of his colleagues.
“It’s outrageous,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), adding with joking disdain the notion that Schumer could refer to it as “his apartment” next time around.
Durbin has lived in the townhouse on the House side of the Hill for years with Schumer, and the owner of the pad is Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), a longtime friend of the two Senators from their days in the House. The fourth housemate currently is Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.), though Leon Panetta used to hang his hat there back in the day.
Durbin said Schumer is, well, not much on buying things. The Illinois Democrat noted that in the Times photo, you could see the couch that Schumer’s Communications Director Phil Singer is sitting on — and that couch was claimed by Schumer after Durbin’s son decided to “throw it away” some years ago.
Next to the couch is a small coffee table — which was purchased by Durbin 36 years ago, shortly after he got married, and has since been handed down to Schumer.
As for art work in his room in the townhouse, what does Schumer have? A painting done by Durbin’s mother.
“If we go through this again,” Durbin vowed, “I’m going to demand more recognition.”
Schumer spokesman Singer teased back: “If Senator Durbin wants to take credit for the furniture in the house, that’s fine. But if we would have brought the furniture, it would have been much nicer.”
Paul Kane contributed to this report.