Heard on the Hill: Behind the Scenes of the Cat Cam

Posted January 14, 2009 at 6:15pm

The adorable cats that star in the video that Speaker Nancy Pelosi posted Tuesday on the new House YouTube destination have become overnight Internet sensations.

[IMGCAP(1)]But the two kitties, who appear in the video scampering around the Speaker’s office and playing with the California Democratic leader’s gavel, don’t actually belong to Pelosi, but rather to staffer Karina Newton, her director of new media. Newton brought the felines into the office while the boss was away to shoot the video, which staffers planned (with Pelosi’s enthusiastic approval) as a nod to some of the most popular videos on YouTube. Animal videos are perennial favorites on the video-sharing site.

Pelosi’s video also winks at another Internet in-joke, known as “Rickrolling,” in which unsuspecting Web users click on a link only to be shown a video for the 1987 Rick Astley song “Never Gonna Give You Up.” Random, we know.

But the cats seem to be the big stars, according to reaction from online commenters. And despite their success (the spoofy segment got nearly 60,000 hits in its first 24 hours), the “Capitol Cat Cam” is not going to be a regular feature, a la the White House’s “Barney Cam,” which chronicles the hijinks of the Bush family’s first dog.

The wacky video was meant to draw attention to the House YouTube channel, which will, from here on out, be used mostly for more somber purposes.

“We’ll continue to use new media in creative ways, but I have the feeling it will be more focused on interacting with constituents than more of the cat cam,” Newton said, although she left the door open for viewers to lobby the Speaker for additional cat videos: “It really depends on what constituents want.”

Hmm … sober treatises on energy policy or goofy footage of frisky cats playing in Congressional offices? HOH thinks the people will have something to say on this one.

$1 Million for an Obama-Mobile? American car makers have had trouble moving their merchandise, but one Chrysler now for sale comes with a very marketable feature: Its former owner was President-elect Barack Obama.

Obama’s old 300C Hemi (the one he ditched during the campaign for an environmentally friendlier hybrid) is back on the auction block. The current owner, Illinois restaurant manager Tim O’Boyle, tried to auction the vehicle last year and even got a high bid of $125,000, but canceled the sale on the advice of his accountant, who suggested he wait until after he’d owned it for a full year, to lower the capital gains taxes he’d owe.

The car is now back on eBay, with an opening bid of $100,000. For the really enthusiastic (and ridiculously wealthy) Obama fan, there’s a “buy it now” option that allows one to skip the bidding and buy the car outright — for a cool million. Blue book values for similar Hemis barely crack 18 grand.

And maybe it’s the tough economic times, but at least one eBay-er was skeptical that the car would fetch the high price its owner is hoping for. “You Better put down the crack pipe it’s affecting your judgement no Chrysler 300 that is used is even worth 20,000 Maybe an SRT-8 and i don’t care who drove the car,” wrote one member on the auction’s eBay page.

But O’Boyle and Steve Hall, the car dealer arranging the sale, are optimistic, noting that Pope John Paul II’s 1975 Ford Escort once sold for $690,000.

Hall told HOH that the timing of the auction, which is set to end Jan. 20 — the very day that the vehicle’s famous former owner will be sworn in as president — wasn’t a coincidence. “Well, we thought it would add a nice touch,” he told us.

Some people just buy commemorative pins.

O’s Guide to D.C. (Not Oprah, or Obama). With so many parties happening this weekend, HOH worries that the hordes of celebrities coming to town won’t get the chance to do normal tourist-goes-to-Washington stuff. You know, like take a Segway tour or buy one of those tacky FBI shirts.

With little time to spare, the celeb set is going to have to stick to the basics. And for tips on picking the city’s must-see places, HOH turned to Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth, the loud-mouthed star of “The Apprentice” and “The Surreal Life.”

After all, Omarosa (who labels herself as a “Washington insider”) is familiar with our fair city — before becoming reality television’s most-beloved villain, she worked in the Clinton White House and attended graduate school at Howard University.

Dining-wise, celebrity go-to Cafe Milano is a great pick, along with Lauriol Plaza and hometown favorite Ben’s Chili Bowl, Omarosa said. As for the nightlife, Omarosa recommends Georgetown’s L2 Lounge. “Oh my gosh, it’s so sexy, and it’s so exclusive,” she said.

From a tourism standpoint, the oft- forgotten Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial is an Omarosa must-see, along with the Lincoln Memorial and the recently reopened National Museum of American History.

And even though D.C. is going to be bursting with gorgeous celebrities, Omarosa said she thinks Washington’s elite are far more exciting. She’d love to bump into Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), soon-to-be White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel or Obama insider Valerie Jarrett. Not that Omarosa’s too picky — she recalled how excited she was when she once saw Dan Quayle getting out of a car.

Yes, that Dan Quayle.

“Politicians are more intriguing to me than celebrities,” Omarosa said. “When you’re making decisions that affect a lot of people’s lives … in my opinion, that carries a lot more weight than whether you’ve had the biggest box office numbers or the highest-rated show.”

Oval Office Re-Do, Weird Wrench Included. When future first lady Michelle Obama on Tuesday picked interior designer-to-the-stars Michael Smith to handle decorating duties at the White House, he promised to use “affordable brands” to create a comfortable, yet stylish, living space.

Perhaps Smith will hit up IKEA, beloved proprietor of the build-it-yourself modular furniture found in the dorm rooms and apartments of 20-somethings worldwide — and if so, IKEA already has design ideas.

In fact, the Swedish company has been all over Washington, D.C., in recent weeks to raise awareness for its “Embrace Change ’09” campaign, promoting the message that “change begins at home” (with affordable IKEA furniture, of course). And this week, IKEA displayed its version of the Oval Office at Union Station.

Spokeswoman Marty Marston told HOH the room cost just under $5,500 to put together and is designed by IKEA’s in-house team. Complete with the IKEA version of a presidential desk and chair (i.e. simple yet functional), the room also included plenty of bookshelves, red and white striped curtains and blue carpeting — except in the sitting area, where there was a red rug, white couch, two white sitting chairs and a coffee table.

IKEA designers also included a few decorative touches such as throw pillows and pictures, along with kid-sized chairs for first daughters Malia and Sasha Obama, and a doggie bed and toys for the new White House pooch. And the furniture mavens even provided security — in the form of two guys sporting suits and sunglasses.

Marston admitted IKEA can’t match the real thing — “We know that there are priceless antiques in the real Oval Office,” she said. But nevertheless, IKEA will (pretend to) deliver furniture to the White House today and Friday, via a (mock) presidential motorcade.

A limo and two Chevrolet Suburbans with IKEA furniture strapped to the roof will travel around the city, promoting IKEA’s campaign.

Now, if only they’ll offer up some of those Swedish meatballs. …

Overheard on the Hill

“I will not discuss public officials’ tax issues.”

— Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), asked to comment on the news that Treasury secretary appointee Timothy Geithner failed to pay nearly $40,000 in taxes.

Jennifer Bendery contributed to this report.

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