Heard on the Hill: Pressing Monkey Business

Posted February 23, 2009 at 6:38pm

It would be easy to poke fun at the House for taking up legislation on the hot topic of … uh, biting monkeys, amid headlines about war and gloomy economic news. But monkeys truly are a hot topic du jour: The story of the Connecticut pet chimp who last week mauled a woman has been on constant rotation on cable news, and then there’s the matter of that controversial simian-themed New York Post cartoon.

[IMGCAP(1)]Backers of a bill to ban interstate monkey sales, debated on the House floor on Monday, thought they had found their moment. Every chimp, apparently, has its day.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) said the chimp attack, in which a woman suffered massive injuries after a friend’s pet attacked her, put “renewed urgency” behind the bill, which the chamber passed last session but the Senate didn’t touch. Del. Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam) called it “very timely legislation.”

“We will never know what triggered last week’s attack, but what we do know is that it is not unique,” she said.

Still, the bill’s opponents didn’t monkey around, couching their opposition in terms of current events by criticizing the $4 million that enforcement of the monkey-trade ban would cost.

Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) noted that Congress had just passed a $787 billion package and is considering doling out more bailout funds. “All of these things are adding up,” he said.

But just as any commercial featuring a monkey is scientifically guaranteed to be funnier than one without, debate over primate legislation was bound to have its giggle- worthy moments. Our favorite lines included a few gems from Bishop.

“I am annoyed by rally monkeys,” he said, referring to the stuffed critters known to pop up at baseball games. Later, he complained that the bill didn’t even address the true problem at hand. The bill “does not prevent a monkey from biting,” he complained.

Kennedy’s Secret? Cigars and Sweets. As President Barack Obama aims for bipartisanship, he might want to take a page from Sen. Edward Kennedy’s playbook.

The Massachusetts Democrat has used a few sneaky methods of persuasion when dealing with balky opponents, according to the hot-off-the-presses book, “Last Lion: The Fall and Rise of Ted Kennedy,” authored by a team of Boston Globe staffers.

To wit: Kennedy once delivered a St. Patrick’s Day treat of shamrock-shaped sugar cookies heaped on a china plate to the notoriously sour Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), then the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

And during a meeting on immigration legislation, in order to win over a conservative Democrat (and known stogie-lover), former Rep. Jack Brooks, Kennedy tempted the Texan by showing him a manila envelope stuffed with pricey cigars. “When things were going Ted’s way, he would nudge the envelope — whose contents were unknown to everyone but Ted and Brooks — closer to the Texan,” according to the book. “And when Brooks balked, Ted pulled it back.”

The tactic worked. Brooks ultimately relented, and the bill moved forward.

Kennedy, who is said to be penning his own memoirs, did not officially participate in the book, but the tome reveals plenty of other insider-y tidbits — including that Kennedy obtained a marriage annulment from his first wife, Joan.

Peter Canellos, the Globe’s Washington bureau chief who edited the volume, said it sheds light on the latter part of the legendary Senator’s career, after he’d outgrown his heroic image in the 1960s and his playboy persona of the 1980s. “I think the picture that emerges of Ted Kennedy today and over the last 20 years will surprise people,” he told HOH.

‘Bright Knight’ to Save Gotham, er, Chicago? HOH readers surely remember Charlie Wheelan, the economist vying for the Illinois House seat left vacant by White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

Wheelan famously appeared underwater in a recent 30-second political ad, and now he’s at it again, appearing in a three-minute Web ad as the star of “The Bright Knight.”

A cartoon parody of the Batman movie “The Dark Knight,” the ad begins with a narrator setting the scene: “Chicago: 2009. The citizens are held captive by an economy in financial ruin.”

The cartoon’s villains: a George W. Bush-esque Joker, Rod Blagojevich as Two-Face and Dick Cheney as the Penguin.

Flash to a scene of Emanuel and President Barack Obama. “This city needs a hero, but right now it’s got just a lot of career politicians,” Obama bemoans.

Enter Wheelan as the Bright Knight, decked out in a jumpsuit, green cape and briefs and a utility belt holding a calculator. Instead of a bat emblem on his chest, Wheelan sports a red, white and blue compact-fluorescent light bulb.

“I’m not a superhero or a politician,” says Wheelan, who goes on to tout his résumé and offer a few talking points.

The ad concludes in ’60s-era Batman fashion: “Will America heal the wounds from the last eight years? Can Charlie Wheelan bring change to Congress? Will Rahm clean up his potty mouth?” (Emanuel: “F–k no!”).

A Wheelan spokeswoman told HOH that the ad, unveiled Monday, already has generated multiple phone calls from Chicago media outlets.

“We keep it light around here,” she said. “We’re not afraid to be a little unconventional.”

Sounds like Wheelan’s angling for an endorsement from Congress’ most famous Batman fan, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

Monday Morning’s Not Alright for Fighting. Politicians tend to avoid taking sides when they don’t absolutely need to. So we weren’t surprised that Washington, D.C., Mayor Adrian Fenty sidestepped a long-running musical debate during a press conference Monday.

Fenty appeared at Nationals Stadium to announce that piano-playing extraordinaires Billy Joel and Elton John would perform a joint concert at the venue on July 11.

During the presser, gritty City Hall reporters pumped Fenty with a slew of hardball questions on concert logistics (with many hanging out afterward to ask Hizzoner even tougher questions on city matters). Fenty answered most of the queries pretty straightforwardly — except for a seemingly softball question from an oldies radio FM 105.9 reporter, who asked whether Fenty was looking forward more to Joel’s or John’s performance.

Fenty’s diplomatic reply: “I’m really excited to see both. Sincerely.”

Don’t worry, Mr. Mayor. We wouldn’t want to offend those crazed Piano Man fans, either.

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