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Political Food Fight

There was a very interesting menu when Senate Republicans held a closed-door Conference meeting as they worked late into the night Wednesday to fight a filibuster against the judicial nomination of Miguel Estrada.

Amid sparring over which party cares more about Hispanic voters, GOP leaders decided to order in some Tex-Mex food.

Bob Stevenson, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), denied with a laugh that there was any

political motivation to the menu choice.

“It’s just that we love Tex-Mex,” Stevenson told HOH. “It was queso and chimichanga. Tortilla chips and salsa. And there were chicken chimichangas.”

One senior Democratic aide mocked the move: “That’s really great outreach to the Hispanic community.”

Stevenson was very happy to respond. “We have a very extensive outreach program that we extend to Democrats,” he said. “We would reach out to Democrats to provide them an opportunity to vote up or down on Miguel Estrada.”

The tit-for-tat also got interesting when Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) appeared on Sean Hannity’s radio program. At one point, Hatch gave the nationwide audience the direct phone number for the Democratic cloakroom, going a step further than most phone-drive lobbying efforts, which usually just give out a number for a particular Senator’s office.

Instantaneously, the cloakroom phone lines lit up like mad with calls from angry conservatives trying to get Estrada confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

Some of the callers were quite livid with the Democratic filibuster of the conservative Hispanic and got their point across with slightly odd Latino-based threats. As one caller put it, according to a Democratic staffer, “You know the problem is, you go after one bean, you’re going to get the whole burrito.”

Unfortunately for Democratic staffers in their cloakroom, the show gets repeated late at night in some markets. With the chamber in session till nearly 1:30 a.m., the calls surged again during the repeat of the show.

A Hatch spokeswoman said the Democratic complaints about the calls just prove that the party has “turned a deaf ear” to the nomination. Democrats, however, believe they had the last laugh: After realizing what had happened, they began forwarding all Estrada-based calls to Hatch’s personal office, which wreaked havoc on his own staff.

Don’t Call Me. It seems that former Rep. James Traficant (Ohio), now serving eight years in federal prison on bribery, racketeering and corruption charges, isn’t in any hurry to talk to — much less see — his former colleagues these days.

Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio), who was one of Traficant’s closest friends in the House, confirmed that he contacted authorities at the Federal Bureau of Prisons over the Christmas holidays to see if he could send anything to his old buddy. The bureau runs the Allenwood Federal Correctional Institution, where Traficant now resides.

LaTourette was also thinking about making a trip to central Pennsylvania to see Traficant. From his days as a prosecutor, LaTourette knew that prisoners often specify who they will or will not see while incarcerated, and he wanted to find out if his visit would be approved.

To LaTourette’s surprise, he received a call from Allenwood officials the very next day. Traficant had no desire to see his one-time friend, despite LaTourette’s vocal defense of the ex-lawmaker last year.

LaTourette even went to the House floor to speak out on Traficant’s behalf during the debate over his expulsion last year. But Traficant undoubtedly also remembers that LaTourette served on the House ethics committee.

“After all, I voted to expel him,” LaTourette told HOH.

State of the Union. Thanks to all of the security threats, if your sweetheart works in the Senate, it’s easier to send that person condoms than flowers on Valentine’s Day.

On Friday, Senators who support abortion rights received a package of condoms from Planned Parenthood along with a poem: “Roses are red; violets are blue; you’re pro-choice; and we love you.”

One Senate aide noted that the condoms had a much easier time getting through security than flowers or plants, based on a directive sent around by the Capitol Police.

Given security concerns, commercial couriers and vendors are prohibited from making deliveries directly to offices. Anyone receiving cut flowers has to meet the delivery person at a package processing trailer adjacent to the Dirksen Senate Office Building.

“Please note flowers will not be tested at the trailer,” said the Valentine’s Day directive. “It is simply a convenient pick-up point we have made available to the Senate community. Under no circumstances should you accept delivery of any type of flower arrangement if you do not know the sender.”

There are strict rules on the types of flowers that can be received. Only cut flowers “set in water or arranged in an unsealed box or carton” may be brought into a Senate office.

“No live plants or other foliage set in any type of soil may be brought into the Senate Office complex,” said the police directive. “No cut flowers set in floral foam may be brought into the Senate Office complex.”

Courting Mrs. Byrd. Amid terror concerns and sniping over the Estrada nomination last week, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) added some levity with a classic floor speech that focused on romance just two days before Valentine’s Day.

Byrd first offered a tribute to Joe Meadows, the 69-year-old staffer who ran the Senator’s mailroom in the Hart Senate Office Building. The Senator said Meadows, who recently passed away, was a musician in his spare time who “could make that fiddle cry” with his mastery of bluegrass tunes.

That led to a detour down memory lane about the Senator’s early days in West Virginia, which centered on square dancing to the Grand Ole Opry radio program every Saturday night.

“Yes, I can remember the Solemn Old Judge and Deford Bailey,” said Byrd. “Deford Bailey played that harmonica. Oh, he could make that harmonica scream.”

Byrd then grew emotional as he spoke of graduating from Mark Twain High School in 1934, the year that Meadows was born, when he was longing for a coal miner’s daughter named Erma James.

“And I tell you, you young ladies, and young men as well, who are pages here,” Byrd said, turning to the youngsters on the Senate floor. “[I’ll] tell you how I courted my girl, my sweetheart, how I won her hand in marriage.”

Back in those days, Byrd befriended the son of a grocer named Julius Takach who arrived each morning with his pockets stuffed with candy and chewing gum. Byrd would wait at the schoolhouse door so he could get some gum.

“I tell you, it was something to be able to present your girl, your sweetheart, a piece of bubble gum,” Byrd said. “And I never let her know that I did not buy that, I did not purchase that gum or candy.

“I would meet her when the classes changed, and I would give her that candy and chewing gum. Boy, what a hit I thought I was, giving that pretty girl that candy and chewing gum. Well, now, 65 years and almost nine months after I married that pretty girl, I am here to tell these young men who are pages, that is the way you court your girl — with another boy’s bubble gum.”

As the chamber erupted in giggles, Byrd said, “Will the Congressional Record please note that there was laughter. We have to make that Congressional Record come alive.”

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) shot back that “my colleague from West Virginia is making everything come alive in this chamber. We have not had a happier moment in a long time.

“Now, I don’t know, these days, if young ladies will just accept bubble gum,” Schumer added. “You might have to do a little more than that, maybe a whole basket of candy or something. But it is good for us to know.”

Hillary and The Hammer? It may be difficult to imagine stranger Washington bedfellows than Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas). But when it comes to helping foster children, the new political power couple won’t let a little thing like impeachment get in the way of a good cause.

The fierce partisans have teamed up to host a Members-only screening of the movie “Antwone Fisher” on Feb. 26 at the Motion Picture Association of America. Directed by Denzel Washington, the recently released film tells the story of a brave young man and the challenges he faces growing up as a foster child. Fisher will be on hand to meet the lawmakers.

DeLay and Clinton are working in collaboration with the Casey Family Programs, who contacted the Texas Republican and suggested he host the event with Clinton. Two years ago, they were both honored by the Orphan Foundation of America.

DeLay spokesman Stuart Roy has mixed feelings about it. “It’s very nice, but odd,” he said. “They are the oddest of couples, but we’re still trying to figure out who’s Oscar and who’s Felix.”

Suffice it to say, the pair did not exchange Valentines.

“On this very important issue, and at the screening, they won’t sit on opposite sides of the aisle,” said Clinton spokesman Philippe Reines.

Paul Kane, John Bresnahan and Susan Crabtree contributed to this report.

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