Heard on the Hill

When Pig Selfies Fly: Pig Book Provides Ritual Railing Against Pork

Pigs give professed pig castrator Sen. Joni Ernst plenty of space

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with a pig Wednesday at the 2018 Congressional Pig Book launch event hosted by Citizens Against Government Waste . (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Jeff Flake was at it again Wednesday, taking selfies with a potbellied pig.

Each year, the Arizona Republican attempts to snap photos with costumed pig characters, as well as Faye, the potbellied pig that serves as the mascot for the annual “Pig Book” release by watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste.

Back in 2015, Faye wanted no part of the senator’s act.

UNITED STATES - MAY 13: From left, Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., John McCain, R-Ariz., Pigfoot, a mascot for Citizens Against Government Waste, and Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., attend a news conference at the Phoenix Park Hotel to release the 2015 Congressional Pig Book which identifies pork-barrel spending in Congress, May 13, 2015. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Pigfoot, a mascot for Citizens Against Government Waste, joins, from left, Sens. Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa., John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., at a news conference at the Phoenix Park Hotel in Washington in May 2015 to release the 2015 Congressional Pig Book. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Flake on Wednesday once again recalled his years in the House, when he would offer unpopular floor amendments to strip out individual earmarks. 

And after nearly two decades in Congress, this was his last appearance at the event as a lawmaker, after he decided against seeking re-election this fall. 

Among the lawmakers joining Flake at this year’s Pig Book event were fellow Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Joni Ernst of Iowa.

“I would note for the record, both of our pigs are giving my colleague Joni Ernst a great deal of space and latitude, which is wise on their parts,” Cruz said.

Ernst, of course, ran for Senate back in 2014 on a platform that included slashing federal pork and cutting the bacon, citing her experience castrating hogs, growing up on a farm.

“I did notice [the pigs] were giving me wide berth here,” Ernst said Wednesday. She focused her remarks at the news conference on what she considered wasteful spending by various regional commissions, including funds for ski facilities at Lake Placid in upstate New York.

“Earmarks, spending, deficits and debt all grow when the lights are turned off, all grow when attention is focused somewhere else,” Cruz said. “And what earmarks, spending, deficits and debt loathe more than anything is sunshine.”

For years now, there has been an official prohibition on congressional earmarking, but that has not kept Citizens Against Government Waste from finding what it considers to be pork.

The 2018 edition of the Congressional Pig Book features some old favorites, including the ongoing federal funding for the East-West Center in Hawaii, an exchange center founded in 1960 that has been a target for elimination in presidential budgets as well as by groups such as CAGW.

“Intended to promote better relations with Pacific and Asian nations, the center was established by Congress in 1960 with no congressional hearings and over the State Department’s opposition. For years, the State Department tried to eliminate the center by not requesting funding in the department’s annual budget requests,” a summary from the 2018 book reads.

Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii has led the effort to fund the center in recent years, since the death of the center’s longtime patron and former Senate Appropriations chairman, Daniel K. Inouye.

Reporter’s Notebook: Democratic Senators Seeking Re-Election Have Less Diverse Staffs

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.