Heard on the Hill: Wild and Wonderful

Posted July 27, 2009 at 6:42pm

Maybe it was the warm weather — or the knowledge that the vote on health care reform legislation had been pushed back until after the August recess — that led a handful of 20-something staffers from Sen. Max Baucus’ office to let loose during a whitewater rafting trip to Harpers Ferry, W.Va. on Sunday.

[IMGCAP(1)]HOH hears that the group of former and current Baucus aides hit the water as part of an unofficial goodbye celebration for a staffer who is heading west to work in the Montana Democrat’s district offices.

According to an HOH spy, the staffers got a bit rowdy by the end of the day, downing at least two boxes of wine and continuing the celebration on the bus ride from the river to the rafting company’s headquarters.

“Once we were on the bus, they went about finishing the wine by having people tilt their heads back and wine was spouted’ into their mouths,— our spy said. The group also sang “a couple wonderful renditions— of Garth Brooks’ classic “Friends in Low Places,— our spy recalled.

The celebration sounds like a good time — although we found the choice of boxed wine a bit curious — but it appears the party is now over.

“Navigating the rapids can be tricky, but that is nothing compared to crafting a health care bill that lowers costs and improves quality, which is what Sen. Baucus is doing every day,— Baucus spokesman Ty Matsdorf told HOH.

Senatorial Digs. He’s a couch crasher no more!

Now that Sen. Al Franken is officially a Member of Congress, the Minnesota Democrat is no longer depending on the kindness of friends for a place to bunk.

Franken moved into new digs of his very own on Capitol Hill over the weekend, according to an HOH source. And HOH hears that Franken’s wife, Franni, found the couple’s new row house — whose exact location remains undisclosed — via Craigslist.

When Franken made trips to D.C. during the seven months that the final results of the Minnesota Senate race were unresolved, he stayed in a guest room at the home of American Enterprise Institute resident scholar (and Roll Call contributing writer) Norman Ornstein. The two are longtime friends, having met at the 1988 Democratic National Convention.

The Frankens shacked up with Ornstein while looking for a new place after the Senator was officially sworn in earlier this month.

Can You Hear Me Now? The marketing geniuses at Songbird Hearing Inc. sure know an opportunity when they, um, hear one. An enterprising public relations agent for the company sent a free hearing aid to Steve Thomma, the McClatchy newspaper reporter who injected some levity into a prime-time White House news conference when he mistakenly thought he’d been called on to ask the president a question.

During the televised press conference last Wednesday, Thomma took the microphone when he thought President Barack Obama had called on him. Only Obama had actually selected another Steve — Cleveland Plain Dealer scribe Steve Koff. Hilarity ensued, and Thomma was quoted laughing the incident off and explaining that he needed hearing aids but couldn’t afford their steep price tag.

The package of Songbird’s disposable hearing aids arrived at Thomma’s Washington office last Friday, he tells HOH. Thomma says he’s been getting plenty of razzing from fellow reporters for his error, but that the gift (which he plans to return) took him by surprise.

Jaclyn LaBadia, the flack who mailed him the package, said she read Thomma’s comments and saw it as an opportunity for her client. “I said, You know what, I can use this,’— she tells HOH.

Frank Beats the Press. Trust Rep. Barney Frank to come up with off-the-cuff one-liners, and at the expense of the press, no less.

The pugnacious Massachusetts Democrat spoke Monday at the National Press Club and played stand-up comedian, riffing on some of the club’s standard procedures. When the journalist introducing Frank noted, in a customary statement read before every Press Club speech, that anyone watching or listening to the event should not assume that any applause came from the working press, Frank responded with a jab.

“No one … familiar with media in America could think, hearing applause, that it came from members of the media,— he joked.

And when he was given the standard parting gift, a coffee mug emblazoned with the club’s logo, he apparently couldn’t resist another ha-ha about the Fourth Estate. “I can say without contradiction that I’ve been mugged by the press,— he quipped.

Childhood Flashback. “Big Love— actress Ginnifer Goodwin came to Capitol Hill on Monday on behalf of the Humane Society of the United States to lobby for legislation preventing cruelty to animals. And while the Tennessee native found the staffers she met with in the offices of Volunteer State Sens. Lamar Alexander (R) and Bob Corker (R) receptive, she did have one disappointment.

“I have to say, I was bummed that Lamar Alexander was not in town,— Goodwin told HOH. “I wanted to remind him that when I was in the fourth grade, I shook his hand when he was governor of Tennessee.—

While the “He’s Just Not That Into You— star might have missed that reunion, she did keep a busy schedule during her weekend visit, appearing at a Humane Society gala event and visiting the Air and Space and American History museums.

An exhibit marking the bicentennial of the birth of President Abraham Lincoln was among the highlights of the trip, Goodwin said. “It’s a magical thing, reminding ourselves what the politics were 150 years ago,— she said.

A Superhero Lobbyist. Actor Tobey Maguire’s spidey sense is leading him to Capitol Hill.

The “Spider-Man— star wrote to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), urging them to support legislation that would increase fruits, vegetables and vegetarian options in public school lunches.

“My wife and I just had our second child, so this issue is tremendously important to us. … Young people deserve healthful food, and I can’t imagine a better investment in the future of our country,— Maguire writes.

Harkin had yet to receive a copy of the letter by Monday afternoon, but he seemed open to Maguire’s plea.

“If anyone knows the importance of healthy eating, it’s Spider-Man — it’s not easy to scale buildings and fight off the Green Goblin on a diet of junk food,— Harkin spokesman Grant Gustafson told HOH.

Andrea Cohen, Keith Koffler and Shira Toeplitz contributed to this report.

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