Little Man Lawmaker

Posted November 12, 2004 at 6:35pm

If you spot a small boy walking alone around Capitol Hill, there’s no need to call children’s services. He’s not lost or abandoned. He’s about to become the newest youngest Member of Congress: Rep.-elect Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), who turned 29 last month. [IMGCAP(1)]

McHenry is taking the torch from 30-year-old Rep. Adam Putnam (R-Fla.), the precocious redhead who currently holds the title of youngest Member of Congress. Putnam called McHenry after Election Day to congratulate the heir to his throne and to

prepare him for the hazing rituals that await him.

McHenry says he felt a little guilty taking the coveted title. “I said, ‘Adam, I’m sorry to be taking this away from you,’” he recalls telling Putnam. “But he said, ‘Thank you for taking this from me!’ He was quite happy to be relieved of it.”

Putnam has been mistaken for a kid in these parts, including at the popular drinking hole Bullfeathers — where he has been carded — and even in the House chamber, where, on his first day as a Congressman, a Capitol Police officer stopped Putnam, grabbed his lapel and said, “Where’d you get that pin, son?”

McHenry, who won the seat being vacated by Rep. Cass Ballenger (R-N.C.), fully expects to get treated like a baby. But at least he’s used to it: He’s the youngest of five children, and as the youngest member of the North Carolina Legislature he was often mistaken for a youngster. Two years ago, at the height of a bitterly fought battle for the state House Speakership, McHenry said the Sergeant-at-Arms came over to him and said, “Excuse me, son, are you supposed to be here?”

It hasn’t helped McHenry that, by his own estimation, he is only 5 feet, 5 inches or 5 feet, 6 inches tall. But he hopes his prematurely graying hair will help him escape some of the hazing in Washington that Putnam endured.

During his own bitterly fought primary contest in the 10th district, McHenry was attacked by one of his opponents for his youth. He was labeled an all-night partier, which McHenry says is “absolutely bizarre” considering that he’s spent his weekends over the past year in campaign mode, 24-7.

“The wild parties didn’t happen. They were not wild,” he says. (Hmmm. So, there were parties, just not wild ones?)

Asked if he was a nerd, McHenry said, “I wouldn’t describe myself as a nerd. I consider myself just a normal guy. Pretty normal,” he said.

Normal, he said, means he’d order a Bud Lite instead of a cosmo. His favorite food is Chinese. He drives a Ford Explorer, jogs regularly, and likes to hunt quail and play golf when he can. He loves hanging out by the lake with his brothers and sisters.

And — here you go, ladies — he likes to date!

That’s right. The soon-to-be youngest Member of Congress will also be Washington’s most eligible bachelor.

“I’m dating,” he said, giggling as if to mask cringing. Asked whether dating means dating one person or dating around, the newest youngest gentleman in Congress paused and said, “There’s one girl I’ve been talking to, but we’re still early in the process.”

A couple of more things to know about McHenry. Ronald Reagan is his political idol. “Jesse Helms, of course, is someone I have a great level of respect for,” he says. He says he’s both a fiscal conservative and a social conservative. He supports the right to bear arms and opposes both abortion and gay marriage.

Asked to name his “favorite woman,” McHenry came up with Catherine Zeta-Jones.

He’s Baaaack. Regardless of your views on the outcome of the election, it’s win-win for the Fourth Estate. Some of the most fiery, opinionated social conservatives won election to Congress on Nov. 2, including former Rep. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who wore as a badge of honor the “loose cannon” moniker given him by Republican leaders.

Coburn hasn’t even set foot in the Senate yet, but a campaign aide is already spouting off, challenging the top tier of the party on social issues dear to the doctor, most notably abortion.

They’re suggesting that Coburn can’t wait to weigh in on the controversy surrounding Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.). It remains to be seen whether Specter’s negative comments about anti-abortion judicial nominees will doom his ascendancy to the chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee. But from what HOH is hearing, Coburn sure hopes Specter is a goner — and he’s not going to be a shrinking violet on this issue.

Coburn has said nothing so far. But Michael Schwartz, who worked on the Coburn campaign and is now expected to become the Senator-elect’s chief of staff, has said plenty.

Schwartz was quoted in the Los Angeles Times saying that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) is between a rock and a hard place. “If he weighs in against Sen. Specter, then he is taking a stand against the principle of seniority,” Schwartz told the paper. “If he does not and defends Sen. Specter, then he risks the wrath of the conservative base.” Schwartz emphasized that he was not speaking as a Coburn aide, but in his capacity as vice president for government relations for Concerned Women for America, a conservative advocacy group.

Schwartz told the New York Sun that Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) should intervene and pressure Specter to withdraw his candidacy if Santorum wants to remain vital. And if Santorum does not intervene, Schwartz said, “any chance that Santorum would have of trying to emerge as a national conservative leader would be down the drain.”

Schwartz went further in The New York Times, saying, “Sen. Specter has disqualified himself from any right to be considered as chairman of the Judiciary Committee.”

HOH called the Coburn for Senate campaign to see if the soon-to-be Senator feels the same way. His spokesman, John Hart, said, Coburn was “deeply troubled by Senator Specter’s comments and will be addressing the matter privately with his colleagues this coming week.”

Pants Party. The Creative Coalition is planning another inaugural shindig like the one the nonpartisan group threw four years ago when George W. Bush first took office. This time, the late-night party will be held at the Women’s Museum.

Actor and co-president of the Creative Coalition Joe Pantoliano, better known as Joey Pants, told HOH that the Creative Coalition will throw an after party.

Pantoliano said the celebration will be a chance for the coalition, its members and friends to focus on the industry’s agenda during the Bush administration’s second term. “We’re going to celebrate his success,” Pants told HOH.

He added that the Creative Coalition now needs to move toward the center. “The Creative Coalition needs to practice what it preaches,” he said.

Pants said that while he personally voted for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), “Bush won fair and square decidedly. It was an enormous vote of confidence.”

“One thing I know from being nonpartisan is how organized Republicans are. I think Karl Rove was a genius. He really put all his eggs in one basket — evangelicals versus the youth of America.”

As for the entertainment at the inaugural bash, he said, “We want it to be great.” Officials haven’t nailed down the performers yet, but Pantoliano’s has a first pick.

“If I can get them, I’m hoping I can, the group I love is … the Beans? The Something Beans?”

HOH asked: Black Eyed Peas? “Yes. They are fantastic!” Pants said.

If the coalition lures the funky pop hip-hop group, that would be quite a switch: The band played at both the Democratic National Convention and at the Boston bash that was supposed to celebrate a Kerry victory on the night of Nov. 2.

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