Heard on the Hill: Usher: Yeah! It’s Still On

Posted February 20, 2009 at 6:27pm

Usher isn’t letting his wife’s botched-liposuction medical drama keep him from what’s really important: testifying on Capitol Hill. The R&B crooner is expected to appear before the House Education and Labor Committee at a Wednesday hearing on national service and volunteerism.

[IMGCAP(1)]Usher’s long-anticipated presence inside the Beltway was thrown in doubt when his wife suffered a heart attack while undergoing fat-blasting plastic surgery in Brazil earlier this month and doctors had to induce a coma to stabilize her.

“He’s still scheduled to be here,” a committee spokesman told HOH.

Usher’s wife, Tameka Raymond, returned to the States on Thursday, appearing before paparazzi cameras to be healthy and in good spirits despite her under-the-knife ordeal. Perhaps she’s well enough to give her hubby the all-clear to come chat up lawmakers about his youth-oriented New Look Foundation.

Usher’s “Confessions” (that’s the name of one of his hit albums) apparently won’t include breaking a date — at least with Congress.

New Kid on the Chopping Block. HOH is giving a worst-first-week-at-work award to Jim O’Connor, the new communications director for Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.). O’Connor began work for the scandal- magnet Burris last week, just in time to see his new boss come under fire for possibly misleading investigators looking into the pay-to-play scheme that former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) allegedly ran to fill the seat that Burris now holds and give a fiery speech in Chicago that might have made things worse.

Things got even worst on Friday when Burris’ chief of staff quit and President Barack Obama suggested that Burris resign.

Whatever they think of his brassy boss, some Senate staffers feel sorry for their new colleague, even as they suspect he might not remain in their ranks for much longer, with pressure mounting on Burris to resign. “They say the first week is the toughest, but that usually implies there’ll be a week two,” one Senate flack said.

O’Connor wouldn’t comment to HOH, although we suspect he had his hands full elsewhere.

At least O’Connor is no stranger to scandal: He was a spokesman for Illinois millionaire Blair Hull in his 2004 Senate campaign against now-President Barack Obama. Hull’s bid crashed and burned amid allegations that he abused his wife.

Binding Social Contract. As any “Seinfeld” fan can tell you, the airport pickup is one of the most crucial tests of a friendship. So Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) showed his loyalty for buddy and fellow Republican Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.).

“[G]oing to pick up Rep. Paul Ryan at airport. I’ll let you know if he is high maintenance,” McCarthy’s Twitter feed read Friday afternoon. Ryan was arriving in McCarthy’s hometown of Bakersfield, Calif., where he was slated to be the speaker at an annual dinner honoring President Abraham Lincoln.

HOH asked McCarthy for the verdict on Ryan’s airport diva-ish-ness. “Very low maintenance. He carried his own bag, but we’ll see how much hair gel he uses to get that [Ronald] Reagan look,” McCarthy told us, an apparent reference to the two budget hawks’ shared love of slashing spending.

Blumenauer’s Laugh Factory. Unlike some stuffy, er, serious-minded Members of Congress, Rep. Earl Blumenauer is a guy who can take a joke — he annually recruits fellow Congressmen to poke fun at him. But at the Oregon Democrat’s annual comedy-focused campaign fundraiser this year, all those Wall Street chief executive officers could be the butt of a few jokes, too.

Blumenauer’s “2009 Comedy Bailout” will see Democratic Reps. Brian Baird (Wash.), Emanuel Cleaver (Mo.), Peter DeFazio (Ore.), Marion Berry (Ark.), Bruce Braley (Iowa), Rick Larsen (Wash.), Ellen Tauscher (Calif.) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.) take the stage March 11 to toast (or roast) Blumenauer at the Washington Court Hotel.

But also expect some bailout jokes. As the invite notes, tickets range from $1,000 to $5,000 — but “CEO’s Get in Scot-free.”

“They have the freedom to do what they want; all we ask is that their performance be good,” Blumenauer spokeswoman Sahar Wali said of performers. “Often Members turn the joke on Earl — it’s amazing how many bow tie and bicycle jokes there are.”

This year’s bash is the 14th comedy show Blumenauer has hosted since taking office. He initially got the idea from “The Portland Roast,” an annual bash that he created pitting three journalists against three politicians to raise money for Oregon schools, Wali said.

When Blumenauer came to Congress, it felt natural to create a similar show in the nation’s capital. More than three dozen Members have since performed, including White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Reps. John Lewis (D-Ga.) Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Barney Frank (D-Mass.).

“As Earl says, it’s always been a great opportunity for Members of Congress to be funny, on purpose,” Wali said.

Kilt-y Pleasures. If you want to warm people to your cause, offering them a swig of toe-tingling single-malt scotch probably isn’t a bad strategy. Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond will be holding court tonight at a scotch tasting sponsored by the Distilled Spirits Council at the group’s downtown headquarters.

HOH hears that more than a few members of the Scottish Caucus and top staffers will be in attendance, although there’s no word on whether they’ll be sporting kilts. Salmond, who’s the Scots’ equivalent of a prime minister, is trying to drum up interest in Scottish Homecoming, a yearlong celebration of the 250th birthday of poet Robert Burns and all things Scottish.

Minister, you had us at “single malt.”

Lt. Dan Salutes the Troops. Spotted in town on Friday: “Forrest Gump” actor Gary Sinise, who stopped by the National Press Club to screen the documentary, “Brothers at War.”

The film follows filmmaker Jake Rademacher as he travels to Iraq seeking to experience the conflict through the eyes of his brothers, Army Capt. Isaac Rademacher and Army Sgt. Joe Rademacher. Sinise served as executive producer on the documentary, which is set for release on March 13.

Not that Sinise is taking much credit for the film — he first watched the movie at a private screening on the set of his television show, “CSI: NY,” and subsequently decided to help get it distributed. “I had absolutely nothing to do with it,” Sinise joked.

Sinise also spent much of Friday visiting troops at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he performed with his band, the Lt. Dan Band.

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