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Heard on the Hill: Going for the Gold

Freshman Senators often vie to be the first in their class to collect the prized “Golden Gavel,— the award given to Senators who log 100 hours presiding over the chamber.

[IMGCAP(1)]The frosh, of course, are tasked with the not-so-glamorous job of whiling away time in the president’s chair, tapping their gavels and calling on various “distinguished gentlemen.—

And this year’s crop of fresh faces is on a pretty brisk pace to earn the geeky title, with Sen. Jeff Merkley looking like the class frontrunner. The Oregon Democrat, by his office’s count, has been parked in the chair for a whopping 28 hours and 15 minutes since being sworn in. Nipping at his heels is Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) at 24 hours and 10 minutes). Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) is at 21 hours, while Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) are in the 15-hour range. Alas, HOH couldn’t pin the other newbies down on their numbers.

Merkley spokeswoman Julie Edwards said her boss was eager to learn the ropes of the chamber up close. “When you’re a policy wonk and you’ve got a front-row seat to C-SPAN, you need to take advantage,— she said of Merkley’s eagerness to wield the gavel.

And speaking of nerdiness, last year’s class has two super-geeks: Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) already has collected two, count ’em, Golden Gavels, putting him way ahead of his classmates. And Sen. Jim Webb earned a special “S.O.S— Golden Gavel for “presiding over the Senate in times of urgent need during the 110th Congress,— even though the Virginia Democrat hasn’t yet logged 100 hours — his assigned times to preside are Mondays and Fridays (because he lives so close to Washington and can be there when traveling Senators can’t), but the Senate usually isn’t in on those days.

Gridiron-Clad Government. Retired NFL running back Herschel Walker has a football-friendly way of explaining the system of American government.

As Walker sees it, the president is the quarterback, calling the plays. Congress, meanwhile, is the offensive line, creating openings and blocking opponents so the president can generate a first down.

And since President Barack Obama has called an audible for greater physical fitness in schools, Walker wants Congress to uphold his charge.

“Our president, our leader right now, is big on fitness,— Walker told HOH. “You can get a new quarterback, but if you keep the same offensive line, it means things might not change.—

The Heisman Trophy winner joined more than a dozen celebrity athletes on Capitol Hill on Wednesday for National Health Through Fitness Day, visiting about 80 Congressional offices to lobby for initiatives supporting physical education in schools.

Other notable sportsmen sprinting through Congressional hallways included footballers John Booty, Trent Cole, Vernon Davis, Chris Draft, Onzy Elam, Ken Harvey and Kerry Rhodes, baseballer Dave Stewart, boxer Paulie Malignaggi, tennis player Stan Smith and soccer star Abby Wambach.

HOH also chatted up legendary soccer forward Mia Hamm after her visit with Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). The two-time Olympic gold medalist also met with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — who, we note, plays center under Walker’s analogy.

“You see the epidemic with childhood obesity,— Hamm said. “This affects health care for everyone. We’re attacking it from the prevention side.—

Ladies [of Congress] Night. Reps. Jan Schakowsky and Mary Fallin, co-chairwomen of the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues, were in a party mood on Tuesday night as hosts of the Women’s Policy Inc. 2009 Congressional Gala.

But when HOH asked the Illinois Democrat and Oklahoma Republican if they had any tips for freshman Congresswomen — like where to find women’s restrooms in the Capitol, for example — the duo were all business.

“Hard work and showing up, even as a freshman, will pay off,— Schakowsky said. “You don’t have to be a backbencher because you’re new.—

Echoed Fallin: “Step out, volunteer, be a risk taker. Be as much as you can be.—

Dozens of female Members attended Tuesday’s bash at Union Station, which celebrated the record number of women in Congress. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano gave the keynote speech, praising Members — “It seems to many that the 111th Congress has been going on for quite a few years now,— she joked — and telling guests her tenure in Washington thus far has been “challenging and engaging, and not just because it’s 60 degrees lower than it is in Phoenix.—

The former Arizona governor urged non-Members in the audience to consider running for office, which she called tough but “also fun,— garnering sarcastic laughter from Members. “Now, you know it is,— Napolitano quipped.

Rude Gestures 101. What does your colleague mean when he extends his middle finger in your direction? If you’re not sure, you’re definitely a candidate for a course being offered to Senate staffers.

The class, put on by the Senate Office of Education and Training, bears a title that had some staffers snickering: “Body Language: What the Window Cleaner Saw … All About Non-Verbal Communication.—

Hmm, we’d love to know what Senate window-cleaners see. … If you know, please e-mail us, or make the appropriate nonverbal gesture in our general direction.

Sightseeing With Brangelina. Here’s a tip-off for those on high alert for sightings of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, the übercouple popping up all over our fair city these days. The best spots to ogle the pouty-lipped actress are as follows: L’Enfant Plaza, the Navy Memorial, the Mandarin Oriental hotel, and along Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House.

Those are among the settings where Jolie’s new spy-thriller flick “Salt— will be filming for the next six days, according to the city’s Office of Motion Picture and Television Development.

And Pitt will be appearing for a photo op today with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in the Speaker’s Balcony hallway before the two meet to discuss hair-care products … er, that is, environmentally friendly housing in New Orleans.

We don’t know whether the Jolie-Pitt duo brought their ever-growing brood with them to Washington, but, hey, they’re close enough for a play date with those darling Obama girls …

Overheard on the Hill. “The odds are 3 to 1 that Villaraigosa will be running against Sanchez and 2 to 1 that he’ll be dating her.—

— L.A. Times columnist Steve Lopez, in a Wednesday column handicapping the California gubernatorial race and giving his predictions (political and otherwise) for L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and California Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez.

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