Heard on the Hill: Star Wars

Posted March 25, 2009 at 6:24pm

Funnyman Stephen Colbert might have one Congressional ally in his bid to have NASA name an area of a space station for him, but it appears he has even more powerful opposition.

[IMGCAP(1)]Colbert won NASA’s contest to name a section of the International Space Station, after an aggressive campaign on his show, “The Colbert Report.— NASA, though, is hinting that it could overlook the top vote-getter and go instead with its own proposed name, “Serenity,— which came in second place in the contest.

That raised the hackles of Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.), who urged NASA in a press release on Wednesday to let the democratically chosen winner stand. “The people have spoken, and Stephen Colbert won it fair and square — even if his campaign was a bit over the top,— Fattah proclaimed.

But other powerful Members are backing up NASA in the celestial controversy. Dan McLaughlin, spokesman for former astronaut Sen. Bill Nelson, told HOH that the Florida Democrat stands by the agency. Sorry, Colbert.

McLaughlin effusively praised the barb-witted Colbert, perhaps in fear of ending up on the wrong side of his cutting humor, but said the campaign wasn’t exactly fair. “Colbert is brilliant, funny, entertaining and handsome, but it’s hardly fair to claim victory in the NASA contest when you consider his vast audience,— he maintains.

And you can count Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (the wife of an astronaut and the chairwoman of the space subcommittee of the House Science and Technology Committee, to boot) in the pro-NASA column, too. C.J. Karamargin, spokesman for the Arizona Democrat, noted that the room Colbert is seeking to make his namesake is used to recycle astronaut pee (ick!).

“Congresswoman Giffords respects Stephen Colbert,— he told us. “She even respects his desire to have a room named after him that will be used to recycle urine. The Congresswoman is a big believer in recycling. Ultimately, however, the Congresswoman believes NASA should have the final say in the naming of the room.—

He’ll Have Fries With That. Freshman Rep. Jason Chaffetz isn’t the fancy-schmancy type — his claim to fame is that he sleeps each night on a cot in his office in the Longworth House Office Building, after all.

And apparently the Utah Republican’s meat-and-potatoes tastes also apply to his food choices. Literally.

Chaffetz ducked out of the oh-so-formal National Republican Congressional Committee dinner on Tuesday night (where the meal consisted of “a little tuna on celery,— he recalled) to hit up a local Five Guys Burgers and Fries, he told HOH.

“I get the little one with bacon and mushrooms,— Chaffetz said. “It hits the spot every time. That, and a good cup of fries.—

Chaffetz said the NRCC’s dainty meal was “tasty, it just didn’t fill me up.— It certainly couldn’t compare to Five Guys — and Chaffetz is a big fan.

Two Five Guys locations recently opened in Utah, and another is on the way, he noted.

“I couldn’t be happier,— Chaffetz said. “I win the election, and we get a Five Guys.—

A Near Faux Pas. Sen. Claire McCaskill came close to insulting former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) when he appeared at a Senate Aging Committee hearing on Wednesday.

Kerrey, joined by former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), retired Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and California first lady Maria Shriver, was on Capitol Hill to testify on Alzheimer’s disease.

During McCaskill’s opening statement, the Missouri Democrat recognized each witness, telling Kerrey that her daughter attends the New School in New York (where Kerrey is president). McCaskill added that her daughter “called me the other night and said she was sick of it.—

Say what?

“Sick of school that is,— McCaskill quickly added. “Not the New School — she loves the New School.—

Phew — that was a close one.

McCaskill also praised O’Connor — “who has been a role model for me most of my life,— she said — and added that she is impressed with “the influence [Shriver] has had on the governor of California.— (Shriver is widely credited with bringing her husband, GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, to the political center.)

“I think this is the perfect time for you to work on Newt Gingrich,— McCaskill quipped. “If you could, since we’ve got him here. I think you can work your magic, first lady.—

Fundraising, With Sprinkles. It’s Sen. Patrick Leahy’s 69th birthday Tuesday, and his friends are celebrating with a party that’s all ice cream and no cake. Lobbying power couple Heather and Tony Podesta are throwing the Vermont Democrat a Ben & Jerry’s-themed birthday bash-cum-fundraiser, along with Tony’s brother John, a former Leahy chief of staff and now head of the Center for American Progress.

The e-mail invite at first reads like an invite to a counterculture bacchanal, with a subject line that promises “Magic Brownies— and “Karamel Sutra.— But calm down, you hippie kiddies — as befits the buttoned-up crowd, those are just flavors from Leahy’s home-state creamery, not party favors.

Heather Podesta told HOH that the event will be “berry, berry extraordinary.— How sweet.

And here’s a hint to the hosts: HOH hears that Leahy (who’s a huge fan of the Grateful Dead) prefers Cherry Garcia, the flavor named after his favorite band’s lead singer, Jerry Garcia.

Specter Wants In. Just a day after he ticked off Democrats by announcing he wouldn’t again support a Democratic union-organizing bill, Sen. Arlen Specter looked like he wanted back into the clubhouse.

The Pennsylvania Republican was spotted trying unsuccessfully to enter the back door to the Democrats’ weekly luncheon. He attempted to go into a door marked “DO NOT ENTER,— only to be turned away by a Secret Service agent who was guarding the door.

Specter apparently thought he was trying to enter the Republicans’ weekly lunch meeting (the parties switched rooms for their weekly meetings back in January, but old habits die hard). And he wasn’t tipped off by the guy in the earpiece, who was there with the security entourage protecting President Barack Obama, who spoke at the Democrats’ lunch.

Specter then tried to get in via another door before realizing he had the wrong room.

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