Heard on the Hill: Kennedy’s Party Hits Pause

Posted December 10, 2008 at 6:58pm

There hasn’t been much in the way of snow yet this season, but one beloved Capitol Hill holiday tradition is officially on ice.

[IMGCAP(1)]The annual holiday party hosted by Sen. Edward Kennedy, the highlight of many Washington social calendars and a veritable institution isn’t happening this year, HOH hears. For decades, dozens of staffers, former staffers, journalists and friends of the Massachusetts Democrat have gathered for the annual soiree, the highlight of which is an off-the-record (read: sometimes bawdy) skit by Kennedy himself, usually accompanied by his wife, Vicki.

In past years, Kennedy has entertained the crowd by dressing up and performing, with greatest hits from recent years including Kennedy as Austin Powers, a Red Sox player, and the Grinch. Speculating about what role Kennedy might slip into has long been a favorite December pastime for staffers. Notables from years way past include Fawn Hall (at the 1987 party, and yes, the get-up reportedly included a dress and wig) and Batman in 1990.

Alas, this year, Kennedy, who is undergoing treatment in Massachusetts for a brain tumor, won’t be in Washington for the much-anticipated fete, typically held in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing room, a spokeswoman told HOH. Instead, current staffers will gather for a small celebration, HOH hears.

“Sen. and Mrs. Kennedy will be away and won’t be appearing at this year’s party, but they’re already in dress rehearsals for next year’s festivities,” Kennedy spokeswoman Melissa Wagoner told HOH. “Sen. Kennedy looks forward to being back in the Senate in January.”

We hear Kennedy, like many cancer patients, as a precautionary measure tries to avoid situations where he might come into contact with a lot of germs, and we can only imagine being packed like sardines with a bunch of revelers chowing down on finger food isn’t the most sterile of environments.

One veteran of the party regrets that the hiatus comes at a time so ripe for Kennedy’s comedic stylings. “If ever there was a year to give the Bush administration a kiss goodbye in costume, this would be it,” the saddened would-be attendee said.

There have been years when there has been a party but no skit, but a holiday season without a Kennedy gathering just doesn’t feel right to some Hill types. “It’s like not having turkey on Thanksgiving,” mourned another fan of the tradition.

Reid Clears the Air on Smelly Tourists. It’s not quite an apology, but it’s a start.

During the opening of the Capitol Visitor Center last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) created a stink when he said the facility would improve Congressional air quality when “in the summer because of the heat and high humidity, you could literally smell the tourists coming into the Capitol.”

Saying that the Capitol’s democracy- loving visitors smell of something foul? Not the best move, Senator.

Not surprisingly, the smelly remarks triggered a major backlash, and Reid now is trying to explain himself — although he isn’t directly apologizing.

In a letter published in the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Wednesday, Reid writes that “anyone who took the time to watch my statement or read it in full knows the point I was making: I’m always pleased when the Capitol is filled with citizens eager to learn.”

Is that contrition we smell?

Reid continues: “It is no secret that Washington gets terribly hot and humid during the summer, the peak season for tourists. Before the opening of this center, visitors to the Capitol were forced to wait out in the heat (or the bitter cold during the winter) for long periods of time before going through security and entering the building.”

Reid concludes that the CVC offers visitors a comfortable place to wait for their tour, and invites his fellow Nevadans to visit.

Just make sure to pack the deodorant.

Pelosi Knows Her Power. While the auto industry bailout plan was coming together on Wednesday afternoon, Speaker Nancy Pelosi managed to take time out of her schedule to promote another worthy cause — her book.

After all, Christmas is just two weeks away!

The California Democrat shut down the beloved Capitol Hill bookstore the Trover Shop during lunchtime to sign copies of “Know Your Power.” And despite the fact that the volume is ranked No. 79,928 on Amazon’s best-seller list, her appearance rivaled that of a rock star.

With the shop surrounded by Capitol Police, Pelosi apparently entered through a back door, and her staffers barred any bothersome press from attending (including HOH). HOH did watch, however, as patrons who wanted to enter Trover to buy something other than Pelosi’s tome were turned away.

A little bit of a diva?

Not so, according to the Trover Shop’s Al Shuman, who told HOH that about 150 people showed up to the event and Pelosi signed about 200 copies of the book.

Shuman insisted that Pelosi was anything but a diva, as she greeted everyone and took time to chat up fans, many whom had several copies of the book to have signed. “She was as delightful as can be,” Shuman said.

While You Were Drinking PBR … Rep. Ellen Tauscher on Tuesday night held her annual holiday party, which is among the more intimate wintertime gatherings for Hill hobnobbers.

The California Democrat’s Northwest Washington home was decked in white Christmas lights for the soiree, and attendees dined on bite-sized pomegranate-glazed chicken, beef tenderloin with fennel aioli and crab cakes, an HOH spy said.

The guest list was as fancy as the canapés: Congressional guests included House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), incoming Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.), Democratic Reps. Joe Crowley (N.Y.), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), Christopher Murphy (Conn.) and Reps.-elect Dan Maffei (N.Y.) and Mark Schauer (Mich.). Phil Schiliro, President-elect Barack Obama’s Capitol Hill liaison, also attended.

Others at the party included CNN Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre, Gen. Jim Jones, Obama’s pick for national security adviser, and Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

And HOH is happy to bring you a truly electrifying party foul involving one Member in attendance. Our fly on the wall says Wasserman Schultz’s coat was so staticky, it gave the coat-check guy a giant zap when she handed it over.

We’re shocked.

Yes They Can. If there’s one thing Capitol Hill staffers have more of than holiday spirit, it’s competitive spirit. So turning a canned-food drive into a contest is a natural move — and when the stakes are a monthly delivery of homemade brownies for a year, you can bet it’s game on.

The office of Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) is sponsoring a drive through Tuesday to see which Congressional office can collect the most canned goods, paper products and hygiene products (like shampoo, soap, etc.) to be donated to needy families. Winners will be announced at a Tuesday reception. And about those brownies: They’re reputed to be delicious, and baked by Moran’s scheduler.

To participate, call 202-226-0018 or send an e-mail to gayle.reuter @mail.house.gov.

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