Heard on the Hill: Gone to the Birds

Posted May 22, 2009 at 5:50pm

Hawks are taking over Capitol Hill — and we don’t mean the war-mongering kind or the budget-slashing sort, either.

[IMGCAP(1)]A pair of actual red-tailed hawks have made themselves quite comfortable in a nest on the exterior of the Rayburn House Office Building, bird-watching sources tell HOH.

The pair, whose preying habits are credited with an unusual dearth of squirrels and pigeons on the House-side grounds, are attracting plenty of attention from staffers keeping an eagle eye on the little bit of “Wild Kingdom— happening just outside their windows.

And they don’t seem to be ruffling any official feathers, either.

Eva Malecki, spokeswoman for the Architect of the Capitol, said her office is well aware of the visitors perched on the side of Rayburn that faces Independence Avenue but has no plans to disturb the happy couple. “They are not causing any damage to the building, so we are co-existing,— she said.

Some staffers are even assigning names to their winged neighbors. “Nancy and Paul,— one suggested, harkening to George and Martha, the names given to the pair of bald eagles that famously lived on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

But the staffer noted that it might not be a compliment to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her husband, Paul. The red-tailed hawk, after all, is commonly known as a “chicken hawk.—

The New Workout Plan. Sen. John Ensign isn’t a guy who needs much help staying in shape — he’s considered among the most physically fit Members of Congress, after all — and now he’s making sure his staff feels the burn, too.

About two dozen staffers from the Ensign-chaired Senate Republican Policy Committee and the Nevada Republican’s personal office began an (all-voluntary) wellness challenge last week, which will push them to lose a percentage of their body fat over the next three months.

And Ensign appeared geared up for the challenge on Thursday at a Policy Committee hearing that focused on preventive health care.

“We’re all excited; everybody’s eating healthy now,— Ensign said, adding that there’s already been an effect on the office candy dish.

“That candy dish normally gets emptied in a couple hours. It’s all there now,— he joked.

Staffers are taking the challenge seriously. Many are forming running groups, while others are focused on eating better, Ensign spokesman Tory Mazzola told HOH.

“It’s great for team-building, and it could lead to healthier lifestyles for the people in our office,— Mazzola said.

Ensign’s program is inspired by similar techniques undertaken by Safeway, Mazzola said. The grocery store chain saw its health care costs go down by almost 40 percent in four years after offering lower insurance premiums for employees who met certain health benchmarks. To help employees along, Safeway established wellness programs that helped them do things such as lose weight and quit smoking.

“The goal is to make these changes for the challenge and then incorporate them into our daily lives,— Mazzola said.

Idol’ Doppelgänger. If you see “American Idol— winner Kris Allen wandering through Congressional hallways anytime soon, don’t get too excited. It’s probably just Andy York, the legislative director for Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.).

The tall, dark and handsome York bears a striking resemblance to Allen. And York’s office-mates point out that his thick eyebrows and chiseled features aren’t the only thing he has in common with the “Idol— crooner, either, as both hail from the friendly Arkansas town of Conway.

But that’s where the similarities end, joked Bob Russell, Pryor’s chief of staff.

“They look alike and they come from the same town, but Andy’s singing is limited to LD karaoke night in the Cloakroom,— Russell told HOH.

Steak-ing Their Claim. Mouthwatering recipes aren’t the only dish served up in the new cookbook from iconic Morton’s Steakhouse: The book also reveals juicy tidbits about the beefy restaurants’ famous patrons, including a few familiar Washington denizens.

According to “Morton’s the Cookbook,— (see review) Sen. Orrin Hatch is a frequent guest at the Connecticut Avenue location, where he prefers table 60 and booth 15. The restaurant even keeps a supply of sparkling apple cider on hand just for the teetotaling Utah Republican.

Dining nearby (at booth 12, usually) you might find Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) who “always— orders the New York strip cooked medium, the book divulges.

HOH chatted with Danny Festa, the general manager of the Washington establishment, who was discreet about his high-profile patrons. But he said the pampering Members of Congress get is nothing out of the ordinary. “We cater to them the way we cater to all our guests,— he said.

Lawmakers do have some special needs, he noted. “We will rush orders if they have to leave for votes,— he told us.

Ka-Boom! The Capitol Visitor Center has had its detractors, but Rep. Jim Moran on Thursday proposed a rather explosive way of showing his disdain for the building’s new wing.

“The whole Visitor Center oughta be blown up,— the Virginia Democrat declared during a hearing.

The day before, Moran had attended a House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense hearing in one of the CVC’s meeting rooms. Moran complained that the room was “horrible.—

Moran spokesman Austin Durrer tried to dampen the flames of his boss’s words. “The Congressman was just verbally expressing his frustration with how much the CVC cost versus its value to the taxpayer,— he tells HOH.

Talk about a bombshell.

Overheard on the Hill. “I think he’s suffering from Speaker envy, considering all of Pelosi’s accomplishments.—

— House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.), dissing former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) after he called for the ouster of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Eugene Mulero of CongressNow and Tory Newmyer contributed to this report.

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