Congress runs (and puns fly) at 2021 ACLI Capital Challenge

Gallagher gloats, Rice triumphs and Sinema walks at this year’s 3-mile race

Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh crosses the finish line Wednesday during the ACLI Capital Challenge in Anacostia Park.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh crosses the finish line Wednesday during the ACLI Capital Challenge in Anacostia Park. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted September 29, 2021 at 11:45am

After running a neck-and-neck race, Pennsylvania Senate candidate Rep. Conor Lamb conceded graciously to the winner, Rep. Mike Gallagher, shortly after 8:18 a.m. Wednesday.

“He’s making young fathers proud everywhere,” said Lamb, a Democrat. Both became dads recently.

Gallagher was less diplomatic in victory. “I thought Lamb would present a challenge — that was not the case,” the Wisconsin Republican said. “Lamb was weak. I don’t know how he’s feeling; maybe he’s focusing on politics too much and not prioritizing running.”

Coming in at 18:28, Gallagher won the House men’s division of the 39th annual ACLI Capital Challenge, a three-mile charity road race sponsored by the American Council of Life Insurers. Lamb finished second, at 18:54.

The members raced to the finish line in Anacostia Park even as Congress has dragged its feet on a number of must-pass bills to keep the federal government open and avert default on the national debt. Wednesday’s legislative session could run late into the night — unless the Congressional Baseball Game takes precedence over the looming legislative deadlines. 

Sporting a George Washington tank top, Gallagher was bipartisan in his tongue-in-cheek trash talk. “The dog that didn’t bark was Tom Cotton,” he said between gulps of air after the race. “Where’s Tom been the last four years? I beat him in 2017. He’s been too scared to show up.”

Reps. Mike Gallagher, right, and Conor Lamb compare notes after the race. Gallagher was the first member of Congress to finish. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

This year’s race raised $15,000 for Junior Achievement, which teaches financial literacy to 3 million students every year in more than 125,000 after-school programs. In addition to members of Congress and their staffs, runners come from across the D.C. firmament. The executive branch, judiciary and media all enter teams.

“It’s a unique experience for naturally competitive people to channel their sense of competition, and it raises money for a great cause,” said ACLI President Susan Neely.

Wednesday’s overall winner was Nicholas Posada, who ran a blistering 14:24. Posada, who works at the Supreme Court, ran cross-country at the University of Michigan. The top female racer was Aisha Woodward, Rep. Jared Golden’s chief of staff, who finished in 18:58.

(Full disclosure: CQ Roll Call was one of this year’s sponsors, and also ran multiple teams. And our very own Shawn Zeller won the men’s print media division.)

With the exception of Posada, the field isn’t particularly fast — your average high schooler on the cross-country team would dominate the competition. So, for spectators, the highlight of the race comes before the starting pistol, when the team names are announced, each a pun initiating more groans from the crowd than any hill would from the runners. From the International Trade Commission, there’s “Running Tarrified,” which finished second … for worst team name. First place for worst went to the Peace Corps squad, who worked blue (or maybe brown?) with their team name: “We Get the Runs.” Lamb’s office — “Lamb is the GOAT” — finished third.

The best team name award went to NPR’s “Wait Wait, Don’t Pass Me!” The public radio mavens also touted teams named “Tote Bag Icons,” “The Microphones,” “All Sneakers Considered” and “Running Edition.”

The press, typical of D.C. media, mostly chased after (puns about) ledes, using the old printer’s spelling for the lead paragraphs of a story. There was “In The Lede” from the Washington Post, and “Chasing Ledes” from Bloomberg. CQ Roll Call’s teams included “News Travels Fast,” “Budget Run-conciliation” and “Herd on the Hill.”

In this reporter’s opinion, the executive branch had some of the best: The Census Bureau’s “Everyone Counts,” the Solicitor General’s “Argumentative Bastards” and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s “Hot Commodities” all inspired.

The lawmakers’ teams were less edgy in their eponyms. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia paid homage to her home’s coal heritage with “The Miner League,” and fellow Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas kept it corny with “Cornyn It to Win It.” 

Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, left, and Shelley Moore Capito pose before the race, which raised $15,000 for Junior Achievement. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

After the race, most members sprinted back to Capitol Hill, where pressing legislation awaits. Congress has until the fiscal year’s end on Thursday night to pass a stopgap funding bill to keep the federal government open, and until Oct. 18 to raise the debt limit or face a catastrophic default on the sovereign debt. Democrats are also trying to pass the bulk of President Joe Biden’s agenda split between two bills: an infrastructure package that’s gotten some GOP support, and a $3.5 trillion social spending bill that hasn’t.

Those last two measures have left Democrats in a state of high dudgeon, particularly between progressives and moderates like Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., who — despite a foot fracture — walked Wednesday’s course in just over 45 minutes. Sinema stuck around for the award ceremony, accepting Rep. Kathleen Rice’s prize (a backpack) and plaque for fastest woman representative on the New York Democrat’s behalf.

“I’m her coach,” Sinema, a noted triathlete, joked.