Heard on the Hill: Steele’s Measuring the Drapes

Posted March 13, 2009 at 6:30pm

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele is supposed to be remaking the GOP’s battered public image — but it’s another kind of makeover that’s getting the new party leader in trouble.

[IMGCAP(1)]As criticism of Steele from within Republican ranks has grown in recent days, some GOP insiders are grumbling that the new RNC leader has spent some of the organization’s scant cash to remodel his Capitol Hill office, even as other pressing matters languish, like filling top staff positions.

In a little-noticed portion of an interview with GQ magazine published last week (in which Steele’s lenient views on abortion drew heavy criticism from his fellow Republicans), Steele offered that he intended to revamp his office, calling the wood-paneled digs that housed previous party chairmen “way too male.— In the interview, Steele said he wants to give his new workspace a fresh new look.

Republican sources confirm that Steele’s office has indeed been spruced up, with fresh wallpaper and a new desk. However, these GOP sources dispute accusations that Steele is spending lavishly to completely overhaul his office.

“It sounds like some of his enemies are overreaching here,— said one knowledgeable Republican source.

“Unlike [former RNC Chairman Ken] Mehlman, [Steele] talks. And talks,— said GQ. “Nothing is off the record. Everything is amusing. Even the heavy dark-wood Republican furniture he has inherited. Don’t worry, he assures me, he’s redoing the whole thing. This is gonna sound weird, but it’s way too male for me.’—

Steele has come under fire in recent weeks for sparring with talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh and not moving quickly enough, in the eyes of his critics, to hire for top-level director positions at the RNC, although he did hire a chief of staff last week. Steele ordered all senior staff to resign from the committee after he won the chairmanship on Jan. 30.

And as grumblings about Steele’s statements on abortion and a few other gaffes have drawn fire, HOH has uncovered more evidence that Steele isn’t planning to go anywhere — in fact, he’s getting quite comfortable in his new office: Sources say a Bowflex exercise machine recently arrived at RNC headquarters, presumably for the chairman to work on those abs of Steele.

Still, as Steele settles in and peruses paint chips, his party is looking for ways to pinch pennies. Republican consultant Curt Anderson, one of Steele’s advisers as he reshapes the RNC, has said the committee is going to have to do more with less this election cycle, particularly now that it can’t rely on the president for fundraising.

Maybe Steele should be thinking more HGTV’s “Decorating Cents— than MTV’s “Cribs.—

Paging Dr. Rahm. Rahm Emanuel: White House chief of staff, gym rat, now budding EMT? The peripatetic former House Member has been on hand for several medical emergencies of late, first helping a man who had a seizure at a movie theater late last month, and now, coming to aid Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) when Olson passed out in the House gym Friday morning.

Olson spokesman Luke Marchant told HOH that Emanuel — who, as HOH has reported, often still works out in the House gym — and Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) were the first on the scene when Olson fainted and had to be taken to the hospital.

Moran called for help while Emanuel waited with Olson, he said. Later, at George Washington University Hospital, the Texan was diagnosed with a slow heartbeat, a relatively common condition, and had a pacemaker installed.

Olson, who plans to be back to work early next week, was grateful for the help from his current and former colleagues, his spokesman said, even though he doesn’t exactly see eye to eye with President Barack Obama’s right-hand man. “He said to me, You never know where your angels are going to come from,’— Marchant told HOH.

E-mail Error. Every so often, a well-meaning Congressional staffer sends out information about a campaign fundraiser via an official Congressional e-mail address.

Doing so, of course, is a major House rules no-no — especially when your boss is the guy in charge of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Leigh Young, who works as a scheduler in the personal office of NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas), forwarded an e-mail to colleagues last week about the Republican National Committee’s volunteer “Stimulus Package.—

Held Wednesday and Thursday at RNC headquarters, the Stimulus Package effort allowed staffers to sign up for various campaign activities, including phone-bank volunteer shifts in the campaign for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-N.Y.) recently vacated House seat.

Plus, staffers who signed up received a free fleece, T-shirt and hat! (While supplies last, the e-mail noted.)

A great deal, sure, but not something that can be promoted using an official House.gov e-mail address.

A Sessions spokeswoman called Young’s e-mail an “honest but regrettable mistake— that stemmed from her “misunderstanding of House rules regarding which incoming e-mails can and cannot be forwarded.—

“Steps have been taken to ensure that all office employees fully understand House Rules,— Communications Director Emily Davis said.

We Still Don’t Buy It. Congratulations, Washington, D.C.: You may have finally shed that pesky “Hollywood for ugly people— image.

In its April issue, fashion magazine Marie Claire declares that “D.C. Is the New L.A.,— noting in a full-page spread that with President Barack Obama’s “slick, media-savvy administration,— the District is “starting to resemble the land of sunshine and stars.—

“Brangelina has been replaced by Obamichelle — just as stylish and even more powerful! — who hired [Steven] Spielberg’s decorator to overhaul the White House and an Alice Waters-endorsed locavore to prepare their wild salmon and winter vegetables,— Marie Claire’s Lauren Iannotti swoons.

The Obamas also rule the celebrity-rag market: Their two Us Weekly covers outsold mags featuring Jessica Simpson, Jennifer Aniston and even Madonna.

And as further evidence of D.C.’s Tinseltown makeover, Iannotti posits that the city has seen a dramatic rise in cosmetic procedures (“Blame the 24-hour news channels adopting HD,— she writes); has its own version of beloved L.A. yogurt shop Pinkberry in Tangysweet, which opened in Dupont Circle 10 months ago; and now even offers outrageously-priced salon services in stylist Ted Gibson’s Wisconsin Avenue flagship location (cuts at $950 a pop!).

The mag also notes that D.C. has “its own version of The Hills’ with the CW’s Blonde Charity Mafia,’— (that reality show we’ve heard about for months but have yet to see).

HOH still thinks this city would benefit from another L.A. mainstay: In-N-Out Burger.

Spotted. David Plouffe, chief campaign manager for now-President Barack Obama, exiting Georgetown Cupcake on Friday afternoon carrying a pink box, according to an HOH tipster.

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