Heard on the Hill: Professional Eulogist

Posted July 7, 2009 at 6:30pm

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee surprised many on Capitol Hill when she appeared at Tuesday’s Los Angeles memorial service for pop icon Michael Jackson, where she lauded the singer’s musical talent and humanitarian work.

[IMGCAP(1)]But HOH notes that the Texas Democrat — who, according to her spokesman, was asked to speak at the star-studded service by Jackson’s brother Jermaine — has a history of making cameo appearances at funerals.

The Houston Chronicle reported in September 2008 that Jackson Lee had staffers “cull the obituaries— to find funerals at which she then requested to speak.

“One told friends of taking her to five funerals in one day, and of hating to have to ask the families if they would allow her to speak,— reporter Rick Casey wrote. “The request pleased some, he said, but angered others.—

Casey added, however, that Jackson Lee’s “willingness to go to funerals and virtually any other kind of public gathering in her district impresses a lot of voters and gives her great name identification, making her a formidable opponent.—

Jackson Lee said during her Jackson tribute that she was at the service “on behalf— of Congress, but Members aren’t unanimous in their praise of Jackson. The late pop star has become a flash point, with Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) calling him a “pervert— in a popular YouTube video.

Jackson Lee likely won’t have King’s vote for legislation she introduced June 26 honoring Jacko. That bill hasn’t yet been slated for a floor vote.

For a guy who tried to “Heal the World,— Jackson certainly has Congress split.

Bend It Like Tiger. Golf rock star Tiger Woods seems to have the power to bend rules at will — laws of gravity, for example, sometimes seem not to apply to him. House ethics rules, too, apparently bow for him.

The House ethics committee gave the thumbs-up for Members to participate in the AT&T National golf tournament (which was sponsored by the Tiger Woods Foundation) even though the event didn’t quite qualify for a charity loophole in the ethics rules.

Due to the “unique nature— of the star-studded golf tourney — which was expected to raise more than $1 million for the foundation and benefited wounded veterans — Members were permitted to tee off, according to the letter from the top-ranking Democrat and Republican on the committee.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) asked for and got a letter from the ethics panel clearing the way for Members to play in the tournament’s pro-am game. Boehner did, strolling the greens of Congressional Country Club with Woods and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo last week.

The “charity exemption— in House ethics rules allows Members to attend events where the “primary purpose— is to raise money for causes. In the case of the golf tournament, only 20 percent of the proceeds went to charity.

Still, the game passed muster with the panel. A spokesman for the committee declined comment, but a longtime House aide noted that the ethics committee historically sides with the “spirit— of the rules in making exceptions. “And the spirit of this rule is that Members should not pretend to be aiding charities in order to entertain themselves,— the aide said.

Bishop Bashes Baldwin. If one bombastic “Saturday Night Live— funnyman can turn serious (Welcome to Washington, Sen. Franken!), why not another?

Actor Alec Baldwin was urged to run for Ohio governor and is eyeing seats held by Sens. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.), he reveals in a recent interview — but Bishop, at least, is none too impressed with the potential competition.

“Mr. Baldwin’s wide-ranging political aspirations are sure to entertain voters in Ohio, New York or maybe even Alaska,— Bishop spokesman Will Jenkins retorted. “Perhaps Jack Donaghy [Baldwin’s character on the show 30 Rock’] himself will emerge from the towers of 30 Rock and become the Republicans’ new Great Communicator to lead them out of the wilderness.—

Baldwin told an interviewer for Playboy magazine (see, someone does read the articles) that he was approached to run for governor of Ohio and that he’d “love— to challenge Lieberman, whom he says he has “no use for.— But Baldwin says he considers himself a permanent New Yorker.

He even named a few Members of Congress from the Empire State whose seats he covets, including Schumer and Bishop, in whose Long Island district the frequent “SNL— host lives.

“People get sick, die,— Baldwin told the interviewer, referring to those incumbents. “They’re offered lucrative deals and want to cash in and make money for their retirement. People misstep. Unfortunately, an opportunity for me may mean bad things for someone else. I don’t wish that.—

A Schumer spokesman — in uncharacteristic fashion, given the boss’ loquaciousness — had no comment.

Of course, HOH is impartial on the politics, but if we’re having fun with Franken’s “I’m good enough … — SNL quotes, just think what we could do with Baldwin’s “Schweddy Balls— skit.

Golden Links. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) isn’t the only Member of Congress with golf on his mind.

Sens. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) introduced legislation on Tuesday to award golf legend Arnold Palmer the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor Congress can be bestow.

Citing his “service to the Nation in promoting excellence and good sportsmanship in golf,— the bill calls Palmer — the winner of 62 PGA Tour championships — “a man with a common touch that has made him one of the most popular and accessible public figures in history.—

“Arnold Palmer’s magnetic personality and unfailing sense of kindness and thoughtfulness have endeared him to millions,— the resolution continues.

Oddly, it does not mention the eponymous beverage credited to Palmer, a refreshing mix of lemonade and iced tea, which in HOH’s humble opinion ought to earn its inventor a medal in its own right.

Palmer’s shot at getting the medal looks achievable: Rep. Joe Baca introduced similar legislation in the House earlier this year.

The California Democrat also put forth a bill to award another star golfer — Tiger Woods — with the gold medal, while Rep. André Carson (D-Ind.) introduced a measure to give the same honor to legendary boxer Muhammad Ali.

Decorate the Congressional Halls. Could “interior decorator— be added to Sen. Jim DeMint’s résumé?

The South Carolina Republican is seeking to give the Capitol Visitor Center a small decorative touch-up, although he wants to give the place more than a new coat of paint.

DeMint wants to engrave the Pledge of Allegiance and the motto “In God We Trust— in the Capitol Visitor Center, correcting what he deems “a whitewash of our nation’s faith heritage— from the facility.

DeMint introduced legislation Monday night to direct the Architect of the Capitol to install the engravings. The Senate passed the legislation by voice vote, and a similar measure by Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) was expected to pass the House under suspension of the rules Tuesday night.

In a Senate floor speech, DeMint said the CVC contains “interesting and valuable museum-style exhibits about the history of the Capitol and Congress— but “ignores America’s unique religious heritage.—

“When we can welcome God back into the Capitol Visitor Center, visitors to the Capitol will see a fairer and more historically accurate depiction of the all-important relationship between faith and freedom in America,— he said.

DeMint and Lungren aren’t the only Members seeking to give the CVC a mini-makeover. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) introduced a bill, which also was expected to pass the House on Tuesday, to install a marker in the CVC’s Emancipation Hall noting the role slave labor played in the Capitol’s construction.

Maybe now it will need new curtains, since the old ones could clash with all those political stripes.

Overheard on the Hill. “Just as an fyi the internet is slow as a result of the MJ Memorial Service.—

— An e-mail sent to House staffers by House Technology Director Sterling Spriggs revealing how most staffers spent a good chunk of their Tuesday afternoon.

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