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Blunt’s Other Problem

Forget about the search for weapons of mass destruction or thorny ethical questions raised by The Washington Post about whether House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) has been secretly doing the bidding of Philip Morris USA.

Blunt is currently locked in a struggle to uncover another mystery: Who stole five bags of Chips Ahoy cookies from his office on the second floor of the Capitol?

In a hysterical memo making the rounds of the GOP leadership, senior

Blunt aide Mildred Webber established a new “Eating Policy” in the Whip’s office because of a burgeoning crisis. It seems that staffers and assorted hangers-on are chowing down on the food Blunt’s office orders for GOP Members during late-night sessions, thereby leaving angry lawmakers with empty stomachs.

“The food is intended to be for Members Only,” Webber wrote in the memo sent to all GOP leadership staff. “This applies to everybody, including our staff. Occasionally, there is extra food and [Blunt staffer] Michelle [Hawks] will notify our staff if and when you are allowed to eat. At that time, unless otherwise specified, this will mean that you can eat, not your friends. No one should come up to Michelle before getting an e-mail and ask her if they can eat.”

There is one notable exception for Blunt. “Floor staff from the Whip and Leader Offices can eat at any time,” wrote Webber.

Blunt’s staff typically orders in Chinese food (Young Chow on Capitol Hill is the fave among Members) or BBQ (Rocklands on Wisconsin Avenue is the source the Members crave), which are apparently irresistible to some staffers as well. That’s why Webber is laying down the law.

“If you are seen eating without permission, you will not be allowed to eat [at] Member nights in the future under any circumstances,” she wrote. “Sorry it has come to this.” (Wonder why Blunt isn’t this hard on smokers?)

Webber added: “Also, it has come to my attention that 5 cartons of Chips Ahoy cookies have disappeared since they have been relocated to the H-226 kitchen. Please remember that all food provided in the Whip office, including snacks, is for MEMBERS — not staff.”

The memo left at least one self-described “hungry leadership staffer” puzzled. “This Congress should not rest until we find the Monster that ate those cookies,” said the aide. “Perhaps next week, we’ll get a memo regarding overzealous use of the water cooler and toilet facilities.”

Webber told HOH: “I just caught one too many staffers with their hands in the cookie jars.”

In the Tank. The liberal think tank being formulated by former White House Chief of Staff John Podesta is finally starting to take shape, with House aide David Sirota signing on to help lead the group’s communications efforts.

Sirota has been the sharp-tongued Democratic spokesman on the House Appropriations Committee, leading the effort to attack GOP spending and budget priorities. He has been working for Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), the outspoken ranking member on the panel, after a tour of duty for Socialist Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

The new Democratic spokesman at the Appropriations panel will be David Helfert, current press secretary for Rep. Chet Edwards (Texas). “A little exciting, a little scary,” Helfert told HOH. “Sirota is a very sharp guy.”

Sirota will work closely with Laura Nichols, former spokeswoman for Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), who will have a senior position with the think tank. The working title for the think tank is the “American Majority Institute.”

The point of the new shop is to help Democrats become a majority party again at a time when they’re being drubbed on talk radio and other mediums. “This is the first effort to stop the 24-hour lurch to the right that this country has been going through, I would say, for the last 10 to 15 years,” said Sirota.

Other than those eight years, of course, that Bill Clinton served as president and had the megaphone.

Paging All Pages. What started out as a comical scene on the House floor orchestrated by Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) may lead to a serious change in the rules for floor debate.

In order to highlight new projections suggesting an annual budget deficit in the neighborhood of $400 billion, Taylor tried to come up with a dramatic way to excoriate the $914 billion that the Bush administration has added to the national debt since taking office.

So Taylor got several young House pages to hold up posters — one for each number — representing the debt of $914,878,724,860. He proceeded to charge that the youthful pages would be among the many children saddled with piles of debt for many years.

That sparked an angry parliamentary inquiry from Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), who charged that Taylor was inappropriately using the pages as “props” in the debate.

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) rushed to the defense of Taylor. “He’s referring to the pages that the pages are holding,” Jackson said as he tried to suppress a smile. “Under the rules, the pages are allowed to hold the pages.”

But Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.), who was presiding over the debate, said the maneuver would be under review.

Lotta Hype. It may not become the fastest-selling bit of nonfiction in history, but it’s looking like Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) will make a fair bit of news with the tome that he’s putting together.

HOH first reported back in November that Lott had sketched an outline for a book called “Leadership” that would be billed as a modern-day version of John F. Kennedy’s “Profiles in Courage.” The vision for the book, which was being drafted as Lott prepared to take back the crown of Majority Leader, seemed to be a relatively staid look at 16 Members of Congress who have demonstrated leadership in various ways during his time on Capitol Hill.

Oh, how things have changed. Lott, of course, has been pushed out of the leadership and is trying to find a new niche as a sometime-critic, sometime-ally of President Bush and new Majority Leader Bill Frist

(R-Tenn.). Likewise, the book is starting to get a bit spicier as Lott considers the possibility of settling some scores.

“I’m going to tell all,” Lott told on Tuesday. “Whoo-ee, there are going to be a lot of nervous people around here.”

Lott added that he will have kind words for those who stuck by him during the storm over his comments about then-Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.). As for those who stuck the knives in his back, Lott promised to have sharp words for “a few lacking in the character and courage to serve in this body.”

That’s a far cry from what Lott’s vision was back in November: “Part of what I want to do is, it upsets me, the cynicism, sometimes and that people don’t see a lot of the good things that are done in the Congress, by men and women who really step up, provide leadership, and don’t get a lot of credit for it.”

Rosa Rigs Contest? Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) threw a celebrity cookoff to raise money for her campaign committee on Tuesday night and — shockingly — the Congresswoman somehow managed to take second place.

Democratic strategist James Carville placed third with his jambalaya. The top dog was former White House chief of staff Podesta, who snagged first place by whipping up some “Tonno a la mode di Vitello Tonno.”

While DeLauro’s “Mom’s Quick Tomato Sauce” landed her a prize at the bash held at Ristorante Tosca, her staff insisted there was no funny business.

“No, no!” said spokeswoman Lesley Sillaman. “The fix was not in, we promise — in fact, we had a panel of three judges that included two chefs and Fenway Park hot dog expert Mike Capuano,” who doubles as a Democratic Congressman from Massachusetts.

A Barry Good Career. Pam Barry, one of those unsung powers on Capitol Hill, is retiring after 20 years of working for California’s House Democrats.

Most recently, she has been the delegation’s executive director, based in the office of the delegation chairman, Rep. Sam Farr. She may also be Capitol Hill’s foremost authority on Golden State politics.

Barry’s colleagues will be saluting her service at a farewell party from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. next Monday in Room B-339 of the Rayburn House Office Building.

Josh Kurtz contributed to this report.