Scratch That Thought

Posted May 14, 2008 at 11:03am

Senators packed into the swanky restaurant The Source on Tuesday night for Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) book release party like so many well-dressed sardines.

[IMGCAP(1)]The jovial crowd bumped cocktail glasses and elbows as they jostled to get close to the party’s man of the hour, who was celebrating his new book, “The Good Fight.”

But outside the chic soiree, there was a collision of a different — and a bit more damaging — sort, when Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) got his car back from the valet service, only to find that it had been scratched. The car, a new-looking, black BMW, was returned to the Senator with several streaky scratches stretching along the rear section of its passenger side.

An HOH tipster spotted an agitated-looking Baucus outside the restaurant filling out paperwork, presumably documenting the incident, while surrounded by five valets.

Baucus spokeswoman Sara Kuban confirmed that the valets scratched her boss’s car and said that they were very apologetic and that Baucus was “understanding” about the whole thing.

Baucus’ incident provided the evening’s only gossip-worthy moments.

HOH’s ears perked up when Reid, in his brief remarks to the crowd, confessed he had been having a “love affair” with his best friend of more than 40 years. But, to our disappointment, he wasn’t revealing a scandal, just paying a sweet tribute to his wife, Landra.

Other notable guests included Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who breezed in to give Reid a kiss on the cheek; Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.); and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).

The Negotiator. In this harsh political climate, even simple things become fodder for partisan debate. And sometimes, it takes a movie star to calm everybody down.

Actor Dennis Quaid played mediator during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing Wednesday, appearing before the panel to argue that families should continue to be allowed to sue pharmaceutical companies as a way to hold them accountable for medical mishaps.

Quaid relayed the much-publicized story of his newborn twins, who nearly died six months ago when they received 1,000 times the normal dose of the drug Heparin — twice. The actor said inadequate labelings by the manufacturer are to blame for the nearly fatal tragedy and argued that a lawsuit could help prevent future mistakes.

Quaid’s tale certainly had plenty in the room riveted. But in the middle of questioning, Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) took Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) to task for a seemingly administrative issue — not calling enough witnesses put forth by Republicans. Of the 10 folks on the witness list, only two were suggested by the minority, Souder said, adding that neither were part of the exclusive first panel.

That didn’t sit too well with Waxman, who told Souder: “When you get the majority and become chairman, you can design the hearing.”

Ouch! But for his part, Quaid didn’t seem phased by the political bickering and even extended the hand of friendship to Souder and other Republicans.

“I have considered myself to be a Republican most of my life,” Quaid admitted. “But I’m on the other side of this issue.”

By the way, twins Thomas Boone and Zoë Grace are doing well and were at home in California with mom Kimberly, Quaid said.

GOP Chilly to Climate Witness. Plenty of celebs are trumpeting the cause of climate change, but one star witness on Capitol Hill on Wednesday thought the climate of the hearing room itself could use some changing.

Academy Award-nominated actor Edward Norton urged lawmakers to tackle environmental issues during an Energy Independence and Global Warming Committee hearing. But afterward, he told HOH that he worried his message wasn’t reaching the right ears. “It would have been nice to see more of the Republicans from the committee,” he said of the hearing, during which only Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner (Wis.) and John Sullivan (Okla.) represented the GOP.

Though climate change might be the celebrity issue du jour, few celebs have the eco street cred that Norton does.

He’s a trustee of the nonprofit group Enterprise, an organization founded by his grandfather to increase affordable housing. Enterprise has been in a leader in offering eco-friendly affordable housing in recent years, and Norton relayed the organization’s commitment to green housing during the hearing.

Norton took pains to prove that he wasn’t just your run-of-the-mill celebrity witness, relaying his years of experience with Enterprise and dropping this Congress-savvy quip: “Hopefully nobody will write this off as Chairman [Ed] Markey [D-Mass.] pulling cameras into his hearing room.”

Norton called global warming a crisis comparable to the Great Depression, World War II or the civil rights movement. “I have very little doubt that the legacy of my generation is how we respond to this monumental challenge,” Norton told the panel.

Naming Rights. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) has spent 14 terms in Congress, but now he’s got more to show for it than the proverbial stupid T-shirt. The House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday voted to name this year’s Defense authorization bill after him, following a tradition of naming bills after outgoing former chairmen.

That tradition was nearly upset in 2007, when the panel debated whether to name the same bill after term-limited Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) or the recently deceased former Rep. Sonny Montgomery (D-Miss.).

Now, by naming the bill after the retiring Hunter, it looks like the committee has gone back to business as usual.

Briefly Quoted. “I’m so beige on this one.”

— Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) coining a new catchphrase while telling the Baton Rouge Advocate about her neutrality in the Democratic presidential nominee race.

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