Heard on the Hill: Interchangeable Chairmen?

Posted March 2, 2010 at 6:49pm

House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) are hardly twins, but a reporter called Conyers “Chairman Rangel” while asking him a question at a Tuesday press conference.

[IMGCAP(1)]Confusing two black legislators might have been bad enough, but the faux pas was especially awkward because Conyers was flanked by the NAACP’s Washington bureau director, Hilary O. Shelton, and Brent Wilkes, the national executive director for the League of United Latin American Citizens.

The two civil rights advocates were good-humored about the reporter’s gaffe, though, as they looked at each other and laughed — along with several members of the crowd.

Conyers, too, brushed it off. The embarrassed reporter apologized later, but Conyers reassured her by saying that Rangel frequently says people mistake him for Conyers.

But Conyers was quick to remind the reporter that Rangel, who is in the midst of an ethics investigation that has some critics calling for him to relinquish his gavel, is the one who is in trouble.

Conyers, by contrast, seemed to be enjoying himself, even boasting of a Kool Moe Dee concert that he caught over the weekend. Conyers said the legendary 1970s hip-hop artist played the MGM Grand in Detroit.

“Boy, did we get down,” Conyers told the crowd at the press conference, in which he joined singer Dionne Warwick and others to promote a bill to give royalties to musicians for radio play. “Everybody was dancing. Even those who probably couldn’t dance were dancing. I mean it was infectious.”

Rhyme and Reason. Advocacy groups that face a tough time getting their message to Congress often break it down for Members in very simple terms — and on Tuesday, one coalition went a step further, using a nursery rhyme to get its point across.

It doesn’t get any simpler than that.

Members of the Interfaith Sudan Working Group, a coalition of Jewish, Christian and Muslim organizations dedicated to ending the humanitarian crisis in Sudan, delivered copies of “Humpty Dumpty” to every Congressional office Tuesday. Ruth Messinger, president of American Jewish World Service, told HOH that the nursery rhyme — in which the egg Humpty Dumpty sits on a wall, has a great fall and sadly can’t be put back together again — is an appropriate metaphor for the ongoing situation in northern and southern Sudan, which remains fragile after a 2005 peace agreement.

“We are united in saying this is make-it-or-break-it time,” Messinger said. “If things start to fall apart, it will be impossible to put it back together.”

Sketchy Senator. Would you drop a cool grand on a squiggly sketch depicting a map of the U.S.? What if it was for a good cause? OK, what if it was drawn by a Senator?

Organizers of a fundraiser for Capitol Hill’s Tyler Elementary School are hoping the artistic skills of Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) will fetch a pretty penny in a March 13 silent auction. Franken, who is well-known for his savant-like skill in freehand drawing the U.S. from memory, donated a sketch, and Daniel Traster, the fundraising chairman for the school’s PTA, says he hopes the masterpiece will go for as much as $1,000.

“That’s the hope, but I really don’t know, though,” he cautions. “It’s our first time doing this fundraiser.”

Franken’s connection to the school is close to home: His daughter, Thomasin, is the coordinator for the school’s after-school programs.

And hey, if a splotchy, spattery painting (sorry Jackson Pollock) can go for $140 million, who’s to say a nifty Franken sketch won’t bring in big bucks?

The Gipper Vs. the General. Former President Ronald Reagan has been honored in many ways, from changing the name of D.C.’s airport to putting his likeness in Statuary Hall. But a newly proposed tribute to the Gipper could run into opposition from supporters of another popular president.

Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) introduced a measure Tuesday to place the Gipper on the $50 bill, which would mean that former President and Civil War Gen. Ulysses S. Grant would get the boot. And that doesn’t sit too well with Grant supporters, who say the 18th president deserves better.

John Marszalek, the executive director of the Ulysses S. Grant Association at Mississippi State University, tells HOH that replacing Grant on the bill “wouldn’t make any sense,” considering Grant spent most of his presidency working to stabilize America’s currency in the post-Civil War era.

“He paved the way for the enormous economic growth that the United States went through in the late 19th century,” Marszalek says.

And while Reagan enjoys popularity today, Marszalek points out Grant was tremendously popular in his own time — his funeral was the largest in the history of the country.

“What sometimes happens is, when a president is out of office for as long as Grant has been out of office, people tend to forget,” Marszalek says.

But McHenry’s office tells HOH that the Congressman doesn’t mean to offend anybody, including Grant supporters. They cite a Wall Street Journal-sponsored poll that found Americans favor Reagan over Grant, placing the Gipper sixth on their list of favorite presidents, compared with Grant at No. 29.

“It’s not necessarily about ‘the South rising again,'” McHenry spokesman Parker Poling tells HOH. “Patrick means no offense to fans of America’s 29th best president but believes Reagan deserves the honor.”

Overheard on the Hill. “I don’t know if we should be insulted or humored at the President’s feeble attempts to incorporate Republican ideas into his latest health care proposal. Snookie, [sic] from the Jersey Shore, has more substance than President [Barack] Obama’s offer.”

— Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.), in a Tuesday press release dissing Obama’s health care reform proposal. FYI Congressman, it’s actually spelled “Snooki.”

Daniel Newhauser contributed to this report.

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