The Thing With Feathers

Posted May 19, 2008 at 3:45pm

HOH could practically hear the tune “Free Bird” playing in the Senate Press Gallery on Monday morning, after a sparrow that had taken up residence among the scribes finally flew the coop. The bird had lived alongside the Congressional press corps for more than a week, and it had evaded every creative attempt at capture by staff from the gallery and the Capitol superintendent’s office.

[IMGCAP(1)]Though most gallery denizens were happy to hear that the bird was —hopefully — back with its bird family, some will miss it. The little winged visitor apparently brought out the softer side of some of the crustiest veteran reporters. New York Times scribe Carl Hulse christened it “Robert C.”

(Get it, as in West Virginia Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd? And, of course, Hulse used the middle initial, per Times style.) The bird frequently perched on the fan near Hulse’s desk, and occasionally left an unwelcome memento of his visits. “He has pooped there occasionally, showing that the s— can really hit the fan on Capitol Hill,” Hulse tells us. “But I am trying not to take it as a reflection on my work.”

And the bird’s best friend was the frequently gruff David Rogers, a longtime Wall Street Journal-er turned Politico reporter who apparently is the Senate press corps’ very own closet Snow White. We suspect some of Rogers’ affinity for the bird stems from the fact that he is so versed in the appropriations process that he’s sometime referred to as an unofficial “cardinal.” Rogers, we’re told, makes birdhouses as a hobby and used his avian expertise to care for the interloper, bringing in birdseed to keep the little guy nourished.

But the feathery fun came to an end Monday morning, when gallery staff finally lured the bird outside by putting its food and water near an open window.

Gallery Director Joe Keenan seemed pleased to bid the bird adieu after a week of trying to catch him with nets and other ruses. “I will never again use the term ‘bird-brained’ after being outsmarted by a sparrow for the last week,” he says.

Pelosi’s the Cat’s Meow. As the Speaker of the House, Rep. Nancy Pelosi is used to being top dog. But during a visit to Israel over the weekend, the California Democrat was upstaged by … a stray cat.

While in Jerusalem to mark Israel’s 60th anniversary, Pelosi attended a concert of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, and an HOH tipster tells us that as Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik introduced the Speaker, the audience began buzzing. But not because of the presence of the illustrious visiting dignitary. The crowd was focused on a cat that apparently had wandered into the majestic 2,800-seat Mann theater in Tel Aviv and climbed up a steep wooden handrail leading from the orchestra to the upper level of the stage. The cat momentarily stole the show, eluding attempts at its capture, and then jumped into the crowd, the tipster says. The orchestra conductor, Zubin Mehta, shouted to open a door, and the cat finally scampered out through an open door to roars from the amused audience.

And the cat’s impromptu performance spawned even more laughs: Mehta joked that the cat came in through the “schnorrer” door — a Yiddish word for someone who scams or sponges their way into events without paying. Pelosi, too, mined the incident for laughs, suggesting that the cat be named “Zubin” after the conductor.

Congress V. Critters. Rep. G.K. Butterfield introduced a measure last week that he hopes will pack a bite.

The North Carolina Democrat is leading the fight against bed bugs, those pesky little bloodsuckers that have made an astonishing comeback in hotel rooms nationwide in recent years. But instead of hitting the creepy critters with a big can of pesticide, Butterfield’s plan of attack involves using federal funds to educate folks about the growing problem.

Aptly named the Don’t Let the Bed Bugs Bite Act, Butterfield’s bill would provide federal grants to states to establish bed bug inspection, prevention and eradication programs. To get the money, states would match the funds and inspect at least 20 percent of their hotel rooms.

Learning about bed bugs sure had HOH’s skin tingling. The brownish-reddish creatures — typically one-eighth of an inch in length — set up shop in bed frames and dressers, coming out at night to feast on the blood of sleeping victims. They’re extremely hard to get rid of, since they can live 18 months without food and hide out during the day.

Fortunately, Butterfield hasn’t been personally attacked by bed bugs, spokesman Ken Willis tells HOH. But the Congressman began to look for ways to alleviate the problem after a concerned constituent called his office. Butterfield’s research yielded some squeamish stats: Bed bug complaints have increased 50-fold over the past five years.

“It’s not just the dirty, rundown roadside motels,” Willis said. “It’s anywhere you can think of.”

We’re pretty sure the bill will find support among campaign staffers who’ve been living out of their suitcases and convention-bound Hill folks prepping for lengthy hotel stays.

Fit for Office. With a steady diet of superdelegate endorsements and a healthy fundraising machine, Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential bid is already in pretty good shape. But HOH notes that the Illinois Democrat received another big coup on Monday, when Men’s Fitness named him as one of their “25 Fittest Guys in America.”

Noting that it “takes a certain stamina to endure months of 16-hour days,” the magazine praises Obama in its latest issue for his regular morning workouts, nixing that nasty smoking habit, and his slick moves on the basketball court, which have earned him the nickname “Barry O’Bomber.”

Obama should be cut some slack for “enjoying the occasional state-fair corn dog because he mostly stays away from fatty foods,” according to the magazine. (HOH wonders if the editors had seen the recent photos of Obama knocking back a few beers when they made the pick.)

Either way, HOH thinks Obama should be proud — at 46, he’s the oldest guy and the only politician on the Men’s Fitness list. Other honorees include golfer Tiger Woods, actors Will Smith and Daniel Craig, rapper Flo Rida and at least one likely Olympic-bound athlete.

On the Mend. HOH is pleased to report that Rep. Bobby Rush plans to return full time to his Congressional duties by mid-summer, when he finishes treatments for a cancerous tumor found earlier this year on his salivary gland.

The Illinois Democrat has been in his home district since having surgery to remove the gland in March. Since then, he’s been undergoing post-operative treatments, which have been going well and should wrap up in mid-June, Rush announced last week.

Rush insists his illness hasn’t hindered his Congressional work, either. In a statement, the Congressman notes he has been in “consistent communications” with his personal and committee staff and still plans to seek re-election this fall.

Submit your hot tips, juicy gossip or comments here.