Heard on the Hill: Byrd Boycott Ruffles Feathers

Posted November 20, 2009 at 6:05pm

Democrats surrounded Sen. Robert Byrd on the Senate floor last week as the West Virginia Democrat gave a rousing speech marking his record-breaking longevity in Congress. But few Republicans joined the celebratory throng gathered to honor Byrd’s 20,774th day as a Member of Congress — and the silence on the GOP side of the aisle has raised some hackles.

[IMGCAP(1)]“It was a ghost town over there,— one observer said of the chamber during the speech. According to witnesses, Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) were the only GOPers present for the bulk of Byrd’s remarks.

Some Democrats whispered that the dearth of Republicans was something of a slight since Senators often make a point of attending milestone-marking speeches of their colleagues, regardless of party (for example, Byrd and a handful of fellow Democrats were on the floor when Alaska Republican Sen. Ted Stevens gave his farewell address to the Senate last year). “A little tacky,— one Democratic staffer said.

A GOP aide explained that many Republicans were attending a meeting on health care legislation during the actual speech and noted that at least a dozen left the meeting to congratulate Byrd individually. The aide dismissed grousing Democrats as “whiners.—

Harkin Waxes Poetic. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) celebrated his 70th birthday Thursday with a star-studded yet down-to-earth bash at the American Legion Post on Capitol Hill. And along with some barbecue and plenty of birthday cake, HOH hears the new septuagenarian provided the entertainment, treating guests to a limerick that he wrote especially for the soiree:

“Being 70 is not so bad

When I consider the good times I had.

My memory’s sharp

On all these parts

But what the hell is your name?—

Harkin’s wife, Ruth, and daughters Amy and Jenny hosted the party, which featured grub from local chain Red Hot and Blue, birthday cake from Furin’s of Georgetown and dessert from Dairy Queen, one of Harkin’s favorites, according to a spokeswoman.

Members joining the celebration included Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), John Kerry (D-Mass.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who marked his 65th birthday Saturday.

Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), George Miller (D-Calif.), Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa) also toasted Harkin, HOH hears.

Lobbyist Food Fight. Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on anything. One’s health care reform is the other’s government takeover. And is it called the “estate tax— or the “death tax—?

It seems the disagreement even extends to dining options, at least according to a dispute between two opposing self-described “food snob— lobbyists. Republican John Scofield and Democrat Andrew Kauders — both top Hill staffers turned Podesta Group lobbyists — penned a back-and-forth piece for their company’s internal and client newsletter in which they squabble over which restaurants are Washington’s best.

Scofield votes for Central, the chic-meets-traditional bistro on Pennsylvania Avenue, which he calls his “go-to place.— Kauders, however, favors mod newcomers Oya and Sei (the latter has the ultimate stamp of Democrats’ approval — first lady Michelle Obama dined there). And that’s where things turn ugly.

Scofield rips Kauder’s choices as “a little Euro clubby— and adopts the usual Dems-as-effetes line, musing that his Democratic colleague “probably has those tight tees in his closet, too.—

Kauders has a zingy comeback, though: He looks good in them. “Hey John, at least some of us can pull it off,— he retorts.

Sounds like this food fight is far from finished …

Mark Your Calendar. Thanksgiving, that great holiday devoted to family, football and oh-so-much food, is Thursday. But there is another important occasion taking place Saturday — one that won’t require having to listen your crazy aunt’s wild stories.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson’s RainbowPUSH Coalition will honor Rep. Bobby Rush in Chicago, deeming Saturday “Bobby Rush Day— as a tribute to the Illinois Democrat. And the new holiday appears to be quickly taking off — Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) even took to the House floor last week to wish Members “a very happy Bobby Rush Day.—

In a statement to HOH, Rush said he “cannot fully put into words the great pride and joy I feel to be honored,— noting that being feted by Jackson is especially touching. The two have been close friends for decades, dating back to December 1969, when Rush was a member of the Illinois Black Panther Party.

Earlier that month, one of Rush’s colleagues was killed by police. A day later, police went looking for Rush at his apartment. But the future Congressman, fearing he too would be killed, had gone on the run from authorities. Eventually, Rush went to Jackson at RainbowPUSH headquarters for help.

“In doing so, he allowed me to turn myself in to the Chicago Police at a time when I had been falsely accused,— Rush recalled. “Because of the grace of God and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, I am alive today. For that, and many more reasons, I love him and there’s nothing he can do about it.—

Interestingly enough, Nov. 28 won’t be the first Bobby Rush Day in history — and the Congressman isn’t even the first Bobby Rush to be honored with his own special day. In Mississippi, Feb. 14, 2008, was deemed Bobby Rush Day in honor of the blues musician with the same name.

Legal Ladies Night. HOH hears Reps. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) and Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) were among the guests who attended the National Women’s Law Center annual dinner at the Hilton Washington on Thursday night. Along with serving up a full meal (spinach salad, grilled fish and pumpkin cheesecake), the night featured a roundtable discussion on women’s issues facilitated by journalist Judy Woodruff.

Other VIPs on hand included former Commodity Futures Trading Commission Chairwoman Brooksley Born and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairwoman Sheila Bair.

Submit your hot tips, juicy gossip or comments here.