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The Color Purple

There will be a lot of purple and a lot of finger waving on the House floor tonight during President Bush’s State of the Union address.

Led by freshman class president Rep. Bobby Jindal (R-La.), House Republicans are planning to make a colorful statement about what they view as the historic success of Iraq’s first elections in half a century. They’re asking Democrats to participate as well.

[IMGCAP(1)] In solidarity with the millions of Iraqis who cast ballots in Sunday’s multiparty elections, Jindal is asking his colleagues to dip a finger in purple ink, as voters in Iraq did, before entering the House chamber for the president’s speech.

“This symbolic gesture will tell Iraqis, and the world, that we believe in their cause and will stand beside them and all peoples who embrace freedom,” Jindal wrote in a “Dear Colleague” letter sent Tuesday night.

He said he would have the purple ink available for all Members tonight before they enter the chamber. “All it takes is a quick dip of your finger to join with me and, more importantly, with the people of Iraq and people throughout the world who seek freedom,” Jindal said. “What a powerful symbol this will be if every member of the United States Congress does this.”

It wasn’t clear whether Democrats would join Republicans in the purple finger display. But they have plans of their own for tonight’s address.

More than a dozen House Democrats have given their State of the Union gallery passes to constituents around the country who are traveling to Washington. And it sounds like these folks could get rowdy. A House Democratic media advisory said these particular constituents are “concerned about what the Republican plan to cut disability, survivor, and retirement benefits will mean for them and their children.”

Yes, We Have No More Tacos. Usually on this greatest day of the week, hump day, many Congressional aides and even a few Members awake salivating over the thought of lunch. Yum, salsa. Yum, spicy ground beef. Yum, lettuce, tomatoes, diced onions and sour cream. Yum, it’s taco salad day!

But over the past few months, salivating staffers and reporters have been heartbroken each Wednesday they have arrived, tongues out, at the House basement carryout. Usually they’d find the nicest woman in the world, whose name is Doris, serving up a mean taco salad. But for many Wednesdays now, and we dread informing that today will be no exception, there have been no taco salads to serve. No salsa, no sour cream, no ground meat, no tostadas, no nothing.

What happened? Perhaps House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio), who replaced french fries with “freedom” fries, confused taco salads for left bank food rather than south-of-the-border fare.

No staff has lamented the demise of taco salad day more than that of Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). The Whip’s chief of staff, Kyle Simmons, and other aides were seen most Wednesdays standing in the long line. After getting through the initial phases of anger and denial, McConnell’s staff recently came to accept that taco salad day may well be a thing of the past.

“Looks like taco salad Wednesday is about to become carpool to Taco Bell Wednesday,” McConnell spokesman Robert Steurer told HOH. (Taco Bell, incidentally, is a subsidiary of Yum Brands, based in Louisville, Ky.)

Other regulars at the House basement carryout could care less whether they ever see a taco salad again. Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) is one of those taco salad naysayers.

“That’s the one day I avoid the café under the Capitol,” Mica told HOH. “The tacos are not my favorite. There are no tears being shed here.”

But don’t blame Mica for killing taco salad day. He didn’t do it. He’d prefer to continue policing the dress code around the Capitol, chewing out youngsters he sees in the carryout who wear holey jeans and flip flops or, worse, show midriff. “It does tend to make my blood pressure rise,” Mica sighed.

He suggested angry café goers petition Chairman Ney, who, a few years ago, opposed Mica’s crusade to impose a Congresswide dress code. Since Ney’s committee oversees the House carryout, we called him. After some poking around, Ney’s spokesman, Brian Walsh, reported back with some good news: Taco salad day will return next week, at the same price of $5.25.

Walsh said taco salad day was only interrupted during recess. When it returns, taco salad day will be “new and improved,” Walsh said. He didn’t, however, say how Ney plans to work the word freedom into the title.

Calling Ethnic Members! With the biggest crop of nonwhites elected to Congress in recent memory, the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding is hosting its first annual “Ethnic Members Reception” this morning on Capitol Hill. The foundation’s leaders, Hip Hop mogul Russell Simmons and Rabbi Marc Schneier, have invited all 13 of the newly elected ethnic Members to attend.

Those new Members include: the Salazar brothers of Colorado, Ken in the Senate and John in the House, both Democrats and Hispanics; Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.), who is Cuban-American; and the Democratic Party’s dreamboat, half-Kenyan Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.). Other new black Members include Reps. Al Green (D-Texas), Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.), in her second turn on Capitol Hill, Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) and Gwen Moore (D-Wis.).

New Jewish members include Reps. Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.). Besides the Salazars, the other new Hispanic Member is Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas). Freshman Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.), who himself is not Hispanic, has joined the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and, therefore, was invited to this morning’s reception. Other new ethnic Members include Jindal, whose parents were Indian immigrants, and Resident Commissioner Luis Fortuño (R-P.R.).

As for receptions welcoming all the new regular white Members to Capitol Hill, “they’ve had all of theirs,” joked LaKeitha Anderson, outreach director for the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding. “They’ve had so many receptions, we wanted to give our Members something special.”

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