Heard on the Hill: ‘Dr. No’ Says ‘Yes’ to Call for Help

Posted January 5, 2009 at 6:58pm

Is there a doctor on board? Good thing for an airline passenger who fell ill during a flight from Dallas to Washington, D.C., on Sunday night, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) is always on call.

[IMGCAP(1)]HOH hears that Coburn, who is a physician (he prefers being called “Dr. Coburn” to “Sen. Coburn”), attended to a passenger on his flight who had what appeared to be a seizure. Coburn spokesman John Hart modestly wouldn’t comment.

We can be sure Coburn didn’t get paid for his efforts — he tried but failed to overturn a Senate rule preventing him from collecting payments for his medical services. Coburn had wanted to make enough money to cover the costs of his practice but now instead offers his services for free.

It seems Members of Congress with medical degrees often have to put on their professional caps (remember former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s many emergency rescues?), which might make those with experience in, say, accounting, a little envious.

A line you’ll never hear: “Is there a CPA in the house?”

Cheney, Biden and a Bible. The possible standoff between Capitol Police and Roland Burris (the guy Illinois Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich appointed to fill President-elect Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat, natch) might be the most anticipated drama on Capitol Hill today.

But HOH commends to your attention another Senate-side face-off rife with theatrical potential. Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) will find himself face to face with rival Vice President Dick Cheney. Cheney, in his role as Senate President, conducts the swearing-in of new Senators. And Biden is technically an incoming Senator (he won his 2008 re-election) although he plans to resign his seat, allowing the Delaware governor to appoint his successor before Biden’s Jan. 20 swearing-in as vice president.

There’s little love lost between the current veep and the veep-to-be. Despite a publicly cordial visit in November in which the Bidens dropped in on the Cheneys to tour their new digs, the vice president’s residence at the Naval Observatory, Biden and Cheney have traded heaps of insults.

In dueling Sunday show appearances only last month, Cheney suggested Biden was confused about the constitutional role of the vice president, while Biden blasted Cheney’s foreign-policy advice to President George W. Bush. During the campaign, Biden called Cheney “the most dangerous vice president we’ve had.”

For juicy-gossip purposes, we can only hope the confrontation results in either the notoriously loose-lipped Biden or the f-bomb-dropping Cheney to say something provocative.

The Prez and the Kid. President-elect Barack Obama didn’t stop to answer questions from the packs of reporters and photographers who followed him around the Capitol, paparazzi-like, on Monday. But he made an exception for one small fan.

Obama was walking with Vice President-elect Joseph Biden and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) past a gaggle of reporters. Watching the procession was Jacob Begich, the 6-year-old son of Sen.-elect Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and his wife, Deborah Bonito. Little Jacob, on a tour of the Capitol with his parents, spotted Obama and yelled out, whereupon Obama made his way over to the kid to shake his hand.

Jacob is “one politically aware 6-year-old,” Begich’s spokeswoman Julie Hasquet told HOH. “And he’s not shy. It was exciting for him.”

Note to reporters looking to score a minute with the incoming president — use a cute kid to get his attention.

The Big Gig. More than a million people are expected to crowd along Pennsylvania Avenue to watch President-elect Barack Obama’s inaugural parade, but it’s already certain that Charlie Brotman will have the best seat in the house.

After all, the 81-year-old is “The President’s Announcer.” It’s a gig that’s unpaid and requires entertaining chilly spectators for hours on end, but it comes with the perk of being part of American history. Brotman, who landed the job after President Dwight Eisenhower heard him announce a Washington Senators baseball game, still finds it thrilling after 52 years.

“Quite often when you do something a number of times [you] say, ‘Oh, no big deal. Been there, done that,’” Brotman told HOH. “It’s just the opposite. I am sky-high with enthusiasm.”

Brotman is kind of a big deal in Washington. He’s chief executive officer of the public relations firm Brotman-Winter-Fried Communications, where clients have ranged from boxer Sugar Ray Leonard to the Washington Nationals to Starbucks.

But he’s particularly proud of his announcing duties, and has fond memories of each parade. President Richard Nixon’s second inauguration, for example, was so cold that several performers had their lips stick to the metal of their instruments; President Ronald Reagan’s first ran so late that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir performed in the dark; President Bill Clinton showed up so late to his second that Brotman led the bored crowd in the wave.

Brotman says celebrity-friendly Presidents Reagan and John F. Kennedy threw the most gregarious affairs, while President George W. Bush’s first parade was the most disorganized (it took so long to certify the results of the 2000 election there wasn’t much prep time).

Obama’s parade should be the most fun in years. “There’s more excitement, more enthusiasm. I think people are looking forward to it in a happy mood,” Brotman said.

And for Brotman, it all comes back to baseball.

“I know he’s an athlete,” Brotman said. “Maybe if the circumstances are right, I’ll ask, ‘Mr. President, are you ready to throw out the first ball?’”

Congressional Tour of Duty. While most Members spent the holiday recess safe in the comfort of their home districts, Rep. Mark Kirk traveled to more treacherous ground.

The Illinois Republican and U.S. Navy reservist spent about three weeks in Kandahar, Afghanistan, as a special adviser for counter-narcotics in NATO’s International Security Assistance Force Regional Command. It was the first time since World War II that a Representative-reservist has been deployed to “an imminent danger area.”

While overseas, Kirk joined Canadian, Dutch and British forces on missions to assess the country’s heroin trade — which provides funds for Taliban forces. “The battle in Afghanistan is not happening on the Pakistan border. It’s happening in the middle of the country where all the heroin is produced,” Kirk told HOH.

Kirk said he believes the United States should appoint a senior statesman-type to oversee the political mission there and also noted that international forces are carrying a heavy load in the ongoing conflict. But Kirk added that the optimistic mood of both U.S. and international troops got him “completely pumped up to come back to work.”

“For me, it just restored my idealism in everything,” he said. “Right mission, right time.”

Casual Monday. Many Capitol Hill denizens found it difficult Monday morning to trade their recess duds of comfy sweats and fuzzy slippers for Congressional gear like suits and heels. One Member, though, had a novel solution for casual-clothing withdrawal: Keep on wearing the informal stuff.

Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) appeared on Monday at a House Financial Services hearing on the Bernie Madoff scandal wearing a weekend-appropriate purple-ish mock turtleneck and a zip-front fleece vest. The ensemble looked like it would be better accessorized by a TV remote control than a briefing book, causing some curious looks from hearing attendees.

It’s a Dog’s World. Politics is rife with canine references. There are Blue Dog Democrats, Yellow Dog Democrats, watchdogs and top dogs. Cats, though, seem to play second fiddle.

The White House announced yesterday that India, the Bush family’s 18-year-old female black American shorthair, died on Sunday. And the response from many was: That’s sad. And then: Wait, the Bushes had a cat?

The late, beloved India was long overshadowed by media darlings Barney and Miss Beazley, the Bush Scottie dogs who starred in the first family’s holiday videos and regularly made headlines.

That’s not surprising, Pam DelaBar, president of the Cat Fanciers’ Association, told HOH. “Cats are too intelligent to seek attention,” she said.

And many presidents fear that having a cat as a family pet projects too soft an image, she added. Dogs, on the other hand, are perceived as more manly. But 11 presidents have had cats, including Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy, she said. “Those who tend to be more secure with themselves are comfortable with cats,” DelaBar said.

That’s something the incoming first family, the Obamas, might want to note: Cat lovers are hoping the new inhabitants of the White House will make room for a cat, in addition to the high-profile dog search the president-elect has spoken of. “They really should have a cat in the White House,” she said.

Quickie Wedding for Welch. Members of the 111th Congress might get sworn in today, but Rep. Peter Welch already has taken an important oath in the new year.

The Vermont Democrat married Vermont State Rep. Margaret Cheney (D) on Jan. 2, marking the first Congressional wedding of 2009. Welch spokesman Paul Heintz told HOH that the pair have been together for a couple of years, and decided over the Christmas holiday to make things official.

Welch and Cheney pulled the wedding together quickly — a low-key ceremony was held at Cheney’s Norwich, Vt., home, followed by a small dinner and reception at the nearby Norwich Inn.

Welch’s sister Maureen Welch, an Ursuline nun, officiated, alongside Curtis Koren, a justice of the peace. The guest list was kept to family and a few close friends, including Cheney’s three children and four of Welch’s five children and stepchildren (the fifth was in Europe and couldn’t attend, Heintz said).

It is the second marriage for both. Welch’s first wife, Joan, died in 2004; Cheney is divorced.

Welch and his bride did not honeymoon, since both had official government duties to attend to, but Heintz said they do hope to at some point.

Not a bad New Year’s resolution.

Jessica Brady, Shira Toeplitz and Lauren W. Whittington contributed to this report.

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