Fare Game

Posted March 14, 2007 at 6:48pm

One can commit plenty of potential party faux pas at a St. Patty’s bash. Failure to wear green, for one. Ordering a domestic beer or bashing U2 are other no-nos.

How about running afoul of ethics rules? Better add that to the list. [IMGCAP(1)]

Staffers and Members who turned out for the annual St. Patrick’s Day bash thrown Tuesday night by the makers of Guinness beer were feted with the party’s usual trappings: lots of Irish beer and spirits, Erin-go-bragh décor, and free cab rides for partygoers who had a bit too much of the Irish spirit in them to steer themselves home.

But this year, the cab ride came with a new disclaimer. A sign posted near the exit warned potential cab passengers that accepting the cab ride might put them on the wrong side of new House gift rules.

So, let’s get this straight: drinking lobbyist-provided booze is OK, but accepting cab fare might not be?

Event coordinators tell HOH that the sign was intended as a friendly red flag.

Diageo, the company that owns Guinness and the party’s sponsor, vetted every detail with the House ethics committee, Diageo Vice President for Federal Affairs Mike Bertman said. The bash itself passed muster, since it was a “widely attended event” and had a charitable component, which meant it was A-OK for staffers and Members to enjoy the party and its “refreshments.”

But the cab rides for House folk proved trickier. Depending on the fare, they could have been considered prohibited gifts worth more than the 10-buck cap under House rules. “The last thing we wanted to do was put people in the wrong position,” Bertman said.

Considering there were loads of Members, including a newly svelte ex-Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), and House staffers among the throngs, the warning seemed apropos.

And HOH noted that there were no plates or cutlery (even the plastic kind), in keeping with the House rules, which bar accepting sit-down “meals” but not, under prevailing interpretations, hors d’oeuvres.

Whew, it seems like it’s getting trickier to throw a party these days. Joked one party-scene veteran: “If this practice becomes common, the different parties could get creative with signs: ‘This ride open to those over 3 feet tall and not a House staffer.’”

Press Eject. Looks like that electric fence they erected isn’t working on the press. During a House vote on Wednesday afternoon, Washington Post reporter Elizabeth Williamson ambled onto the House floor — which is no-man’s land to the Fourth Estate — causing what passes for a fracas in the chamber.

Williamson, according to witnesses, made it a few feet into the chamber from the Speaker’s Lobby and was seen chatting briefly with Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas). The invasion lasted a little more than a minute before she retreated, a member of the House floor staff escorting her out.

Williamson, who was on her first day of filling in on the Congressional beat for pregnant scribe Lyndsey Layton, tells HOH that she was in such hot pursuit, she exactly didn’t realize where she was heading — and hadn’t been around long enough to know just how seriously Members take the sanctity of the House floor.

“I was looking for another Member and hadn’t gotten the answer by the time we stepped over the threshold,” she explained. “Then I hightailed it out of there — without voting.”

A Sessions spokeswoman said the Congressman noticed the reporter on the floor and, correctly deducing that she wasn’t a Member or a staffer, approached her and told her she wasn’t allowed to be there. “He thought he would be helpful,” the spokeswoman said. Sessions wasn’t mad, the spokeswoman said. “He saw it as a one-time thing.”

Other lawmakers, though, apparently were a little concerned that a member of the Fourth Estate had invaded their clubhouse. Some Members’ heads swiveled as they realized there was an interloper among them.

Welcome to the House, Elizabeth.

Groupie Therapy. There’s something about being around real, honest-to-goodness celebrities that make even the most cool, collected Members go ga-ga. At the star-studded tribute to Stevie Wonder on Tuesday night, sponsored by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, usually dignified folk were reduced to gushing fans. “I love Stevie Wonder,” Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.) exclaimed.

And Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) reverted back to his days as a teenage Wonder devotee. McGovern was waiting for his wife to arrive at the Cannon Caucus Room, where the dinner-cum-concert was about to start. Tables were filling up, and McGovern recalled to HOH that when he went to the Motown legend’s concert in college, he could afford only nosebleed seats. “And now that I’m a Member of Congress, I’ve got great seats, but I can’t get in there!” he griped.

Aside from the guest of honor, performers included Wyclef Jean, Chaka Khan and Tony Bennett.

Attendance Anxiety. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) isn’t kidding about his new policy of keeping a close eye on the clock during Senate votes.

The usually mild-mannered Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) was spotted rushing to a vote on Wednesday, flustered and worrying to fellow passengers on the train to the Capitol that she wouldn’t make it to the chamber before the sound of the gavel. Lincoln got “gaveled out” of a vote March 2 while rushing from the parking garage, and the knuckle-rap was apparently still smarting.

Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), who was riding with the agitated Lincoln to Tuesday’s vote, regaled her with a story about their colleague, Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), from the good old days when votes stayed open for a little longer than their 15-minute regulation. “He used to call the Cloakroom and tell them he was at the airport,” Dorgan said of Biden. “But,” Dorgan quipped, “he didn’t tell them he meant the Philadelphia airport.”

Also hustling out of an elevator to Wednesday’s vote with the fear of Reid’s gavel in them were Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Herb Kohl (D-Wis.). Thankfully, all the rushing Members managed to get their votes in before time expired. The Republic is saved.

Winged Justice. Even folks on the Supreme Court sometimes have to travel like the rest of us lowly schlubs. Such was the case with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whom an HOH spy spotted on a Wednesday flight from LaGuardia Airport to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. The Justice was traveling on Delta, which didn’t assign seats on the flight.

So Ginsburg, her husband and what appeared to be an aide had to roam the aisles looking for free seats, our spy says — just like the rest of the cramped commuters aboard. Maybe next time she should wear her robes.

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