From Movie Buff to Movie Star

Posted July 20, 2004 at 6:42pm

Don’t be surprised if you see Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) wearing sunglasses at night. Not long ago lampooned as Baghdad Jim for his controversial pre-war visit to Iraq, McDermott now gives out autographs and laughs when cabbies stop to give him a thumbs-up, or when the cop in front of the Longworth House Office Building yells: “Hey, Hollywood!” [IMGCAP(1)]

That’s what a few seconds of fame in Michael Moore’s controversial “Fahrenheit 9/11” has gotten him.

“It’s pretty amazing to me how many people have taken the time to write or

say something. People in my own life I haven’t seen for 20 years,” McDermott told HOH.

Even former Washington Gov. Booth Gardner, who defeated McDermott for that job in 1984, reached out to his old political rival. “He called me to say, ‘I can’t tell you how proud I am.’”

McDermott’s role in the documentary was playing himself: a lawmaker and a stereotypically looney, if astute, psychiatrist who said the Bush administration used its color-coded national security threat level as a psychological tool to manipulate people’s emotions and keep them scared.

“They played us like an organ,” he says in the movie. “They raised [the threat level] to orange, then up to red, and they dropped it back to orange. I mean, they gave these mixed messages, which were crazy-making.”

McDermott is both giddy and effusive while struggling to be humble about his newfound rock-star status. He’s emerging as somewhat of an icon among young Democrats. Supporters of presidential hopeful Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) invited McDermott to speak at a Rock the Vote rally in Minneapolis a few weeks ago, something which McDermott said “stunned” him.

And now, the 67-year-old Washington liberal has been asked to headline a Young Democrats event at the Democratic convention in Boston next week.

McDermott sounded ecstatic and giggled uncontrollably. “I’m hardly a movie star,” he said, but added that he would “do whatever it takes to get John Kerry elected president” — including signing autographs for young voters.

But McDermott is still not a celebrity with House Republican leaders, who were furious over his trip to Baghdad in 2002 when he predicted that the president would “mislead the American public” in order to rally support for an invasion of Iraq.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) was hopping mad — about the Baghdad trip and subsequent statements McDermott made about Bush’s State of the Union address.

Asked Tuesday whether DeLay would ever consider seeing “Fahrenheit 9/11,” DeLay spokesman Jonathan Grella said, “Perhaps if ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ and ‘Mean Girls’ are sold out, and the Raisinettes and Sour Patch Kids are on the house.”

As for filmmaker Moore, whom Republicans repeatedly have bashed for his arguably propagandist portrayal of the war on terror following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Grella said, “To his credit, Michael Moore did a bang-up job starring in ‘Shrek 2’.” (Ouch!)

More Weller Wedding Planning. Rep. Jerry Weller (R-Ill.), dogged by Democrats over his engagement to a Guatemalan Congresswoman who is the daughter of a notorious former dictator, is going the distance to avoid further controversy — at least where election laws are concerned.

Weller sent a letter to the Federal Election Commission on July 7, the day after he announced he had found his “soul mate,” Zury Rios Sosa, a member of the Guatemalan legislature. Weller is seeking guidance from the FEC on how involved his fiancée, as a foreign national, may get in his political affairs.

Weller, through his campaign finance lawyer, Jan Baran, had two main questions for the FEC. No. 1: “May Ms. Rios Sosa participate in any of Congressman Weller’s committee activities, including decision-making, on a volunteer basis?”

“Congressman Weller would like his fiancée, Ms. Rios Sosa, to take part and accompany him in campaign and committee activities, and she would like to do the same,” the letter to the FEC read.

Weller’s spokesman, Telly Lovelace, said the Congressman is “taking a proactive step, just to be certain what his fiancée Zury can and cannot do.”

Lovelace noted that the letter was sent to the FEC well before Democrats, including Weller’s campaign opponent, Tari Renner, started lambasting Weller over his newfound love. Renner noted that Weller’s future father-in-law, former Guatemalan Army Gen. Jose Effrain Rios Montt, is “the most brutal dictator of the 1980s.” Montt reportedly is under investigation for war crimes.

HOH was curious to know how it went when Weller asked the Notorious G. for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Weller’s spokesman declined to comment, but said, “Congressman Weller has met many members of Zury’s family, and likewise, she has met many of his family members. Zury’s family has been very kind and cordial to Jerry, as his family has been toward her.”

Score One for the Coach. Male politicians usually cannot help themselves from making sports analogies.

But Republican women were delighted and really thought Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) did the men right on Wednesday when he compared the GOP’s economic policies to “baking a cake” instead of, say, an offensive playbook. Hastert spoke to a group of editors from 10 women’s magazines at a seminar hosted by House Republican Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce (Ohio).

“Thank you for not using a sports analogy!” Pryce told Hastert, a former high school wrestling coach, whom many Republicans affectionately refer to as “the Coach.”

But the seminar was, indeed, a major offensive play by the Republicans. Magazines that sent editors to the meeting included Good Housekeeping, Parents, Marie Claire, Ladies Home Journal, Glamour, People, Self and Lifetime. The House GOP Conference says these magazines combined reach out to 50 million readers — and potential voters.

“These magazines are really focused on the election year and mobilizing women to vote. And any information that we can give them to arm their readers with proper knowledge before they go to the polls, we’re going to make every effort to do so,” said GOP Conference spokeswoman Andrea Tantaros.

In addition to Hastert, the women’s mag editors heard from Vice President Cheney’s wife, Lynne Cheney; Susan Hirschmann, DeLay’s former chief of staff; and Paula Dobriansky, undersecretary of State for global affairs, who focuses on human trafficking issues.

Please send your hot tips, juicy gossip or comments to hoh@rollcall.com.