Heard on the Hill: What’s the Buzz?

Posted March 23, 2010 at 6:31pm

It’s often true on Capitol Hill that the boss (i.e., the Member of Congress) sets the tone for an office. Staffers frequently come to dress and speak in the style of the guy (or gal) in charge.

[IMGCAP(1)]Aides to Sen. Frank Lautenberg are taking that maxim to the extreme: Five of the New Jersey Democrat’s staffers have buzzed their hair to show camaraderie with Lautenberg, who is losing his own silvery mane as he undergoes treatment for cancer in the stomach.

The freshly shorn staffers include Chief Counsel Doug Mehan, Senior Policy Adviser David Garten, Legislative Assistant Dan McCarthy, Communications Director Caley Gray and Project Specialist Chris Summerhayes (who works in the Senator’s state office). The nearly bald staffers welcomed Lautenberg when he arrived in Washington this week.

Lautenberg was diagnosed on Feb. 18 with lymphoma, a treatable form of cancer, and began chemotherapy the next day. He’s had two sessions so far.

Lautenberg professed being surprised and touched by the gesture. “When I first saw the buzz cuts, I thought an Army recruiter had come through the office,” he tells HOH. “The work we do brings about solidarity — both professional and personal. I am very grateful.”

Lautenberg’s Chief of Staff Dan Katz (who HOH notes already sports a close-cut ‘do) tells HOH that the office trend is stimulating the economy. “Lately, when Tony and the gang in the Senate Barber Shop sees one of our staffers walk in, they don’t even have to ask — they just fire up the clippers,” he says.

We guess it’s true that the staff that shaves together stays together.

[Insert Toilet Humor Here.] Starlet Mandy Moore did all the typical celebrity visit stuff when she came to Capitol Hill on Tuesday — you know, met with Members, ran her potty mouth and posed for photos in front of a row of toilets.

The singer-actress took part in the World’s Longest Toilet Queue in Upper Senate Park, part of a mass event across the world held to raise awareness of water and sanitation issues. As a celeb ambassador for Population Services International, Moore met with Members including Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) to discuss her recent trip to Southern Sudan, where she visited with locals who lack access to clean water and studied ways to provide better sanitation.

Blumenauer tells HOH that the starlet was well-informed, noting she knew about his Water for the Poor Act, which allocates hundreds of millions of dollars to bring clean water to the world’s poorest areas.

“It’s impressive to see actors and musicians so engaged in the global water crisis, which impacts one-sixth of the world’s population,” Blumenauer says.

Equally versed in an important issue on Tuesday was actress Ashley Judd, who joined Members of Congress and activists for a telephone press conference to promote the International Violence Against Women Act. Judd, who is pursuing a master’s degree in public policy at Harvard University, praised Congress for its bipartisan work on the bill. And in a move sure to please Hollywood-watchers on the Hill, Judd vowed to do what she could to promote the cause — including coming to lobby in person. “I’d be very happy to come to Washington,” she told reporters.

Judd’s work on anti-violence efforts has taken her to far seedier places. “I’ve spent a lot of time in brothels,” she said, where she and other workers helped promote women’s health and safety.

A New Focus. Dennis Brack didn’t realize that he’d been serving on the Senate Press Photographers’ Standing Committee for 25 years until he decided to step down.

“I had no idea it had been that long,” says Brack, who’s a fixture in the halls of the Capitol, where he has been a photographer for the Blackstone Agency — as well as a contract photographer with Time magazine and a freelancer for Newsweek and other magazines — since 1962.

Brack championed access for photographers to snap the pictures that tell the story of Congress during his tenure on the committee, where he served as the body’s longtime secretary-treasurer. But the 70-year-old lensman last week stepped aside, he tells HOH, to “leave some room for the younger guys” to step in.

He recalls big hearings, like those during the Iran-Contra controversy, and inaugurations, as some of the committee’s biggest challenges. He’s seen advances in technology that allow video to come from cameras no larger than those held by print photographers and an increase in the number of photographers seeking Congressional credentials.

Brack, who fellow photogs say is part of the press corps’ institutional memory, marvels at the changes that he’s seen. “If you told me back in 1985 that I’d be shooting a Senate hearing without film, I’d have thought something was wrong,” he says.

Keep Your Enemies Closer? Politics certainly makes for odd bedfellows.

Several Pittsburgh denizens, including Rep. Mike Doyle (D) and NFL Hall of Famer Franco Harris, were slated to attend a screening Tuesday at the Capitol Visitor Center of a movie about the Steel City. Other Members were listed on the honorary host committee, including Reps. Marcia Fudge (D) and Steven LaTourette (R) — notable because, as Ohioans, the pair presumably root for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ biggest rivals, the Cleveland Browns.

So, are they actually Steelers fans? LaTourette didn’t return HOH’s call, but Fudge says: “While I appreciate Pittsburgh, I’m a hometown girl who supports the hometown team. Go Browns!”

Political Paparazzi. Who needs the White House press corps when Members of Congress are around?

Several Members who attended Tuesday’s big health care bill signing ceremony at the White House provided pretty darn good news coverage of the event, taking photographs, posting items to Twitter and releasing detailed press releases. Perhaps most notable were Reps. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who offered constant Twitter updates during the A-list ceremony.

Ellison tweeted before the signing that President Barack Obama was “taking longer than expected; so, Congress ppl talking among themselves. Chatter, laughs, plans, analysis all around.” He also tweeted that Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) “has a fancy looking camera and he’s clicking away.” (HOH notes Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy was also spotted with a camera.)

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) also frequently tweeted, posting before the ceremony: “Talking Minnesota politics, with [Sen.] Al Franken. Waiting for the President.”

Meanwhile, Meek joined Reps. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) and Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) by posting several pictures to Twitter during the event. Our favorite Meek tweet came right after Vice President Joseph Biden dropped the f-bomb during the ceremony: “You think VP Joe Biden is excited?”

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