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Heard on the Hill: Congress Is Out, but Court Is In Session

Thousands of hearings are held in the Rayburn House Office Building each year, but never any quite like this.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.) joined Judge Chad LeDuc on Friday for drug court hearings held in one of the committee’s offices. But the drug court participants weren’t there ‘ they were in Minnesota.

Certainly different than those wonky appropriations hearings, eh?

See, LeDuc presides over drug court proceedings in rural Koochiching County and gets regular status updates from nonviolent drug offenders as they go through recovery and rehabilitation efforts. He was in town last week for a meeting with other drug court judges, but he ran into a problem because he had court hearings scheduled in Minnesota.

So Oberstar offered him a space in Rayburn to link to the proceedings via a teleconferencing hookup, and he even stopped by to check things out. The Congressman was struck by how the technology of the hearing was so high-tech, but LeDuc’s judicial skills were as if he were back home, spokesman John Schadl tells HOH.

‘In the end, it still comes down to the same person-to-person skill that you need,’ Schadl says.

Pouring Money Down the Drain

The government is often accused of spending money like water, but this case takes that old cliché to new heights.

As the House wrapped up its work late Wednesday night, an HOH spy headed home, walking through Upper Senate Park toward Union Station. And on his journey, the spy noticed something strange: The sprinklers were on.

Which normally wouldn’t be a big deal … except it was pouring down rain at the time.

‘Just seems to sum up everything that’s wrong with Washington,’ our spy jokes. ‘You think someone would be like, ‘Oh, there’s a flash flood watch in effect. Maybe we shouldn’t have the sprinklers on.”

A spokeswoman for the Architect of the Capitol, who oversees care of the Capitol grounds, says the unnecessary sprinkler use was accidental. ‘There was a malfunction with those sprinklers [Wednesday] night, which we have addressed,’ spokeswoman Eva Malecki says.

Members Need R&R, Too

As the session came to a close last week, Members of Congress took time to kick back, have a drink and enjoy a meal.

On Wednesday, Reps. Marsha Blackburn and Baron Hill were spotted at a party feting whiskey maker Jack Daniels and the campaign to make his birthday a national holiday. The Tennessee Republican and Indiana Democrat were seen mixing and mingling at Juleanna Glover’s Kalorama home. No word on whether the Members were sipping on Jack Daniels, but they appeared to be in good spirits.

Although Congress already had wrapped up its work by Thursday, a handful of Members stuck around Capitol Hill. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) was seen enjoying lunch on the Senate side at Kelly’s Irish Times, and later in the day, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) was spotted around the corner at Bistro Bis, where he was having an early dinner.

A Musician Branches Out

Keyboardist Chuck Leavell is famous for touring with the Rolling Stones, but when he visited Capitol Hill last week, music wasn’t on his mind.

He wanted to talk about trees.

Leavell appeared at briefings in the Senate and House to discuss ways to protect America’s privately owned forests, including through increased funding in the farm bill and changes to the estate tax system.

Leavell isn’t just another celeb pitching a cause: He and his wife own and manage 2,200 acres of forest in Georgia, leading Mick Jagger to dub him ‘the Bono of trees.’ Why the love for forestry?

‘Certainly not for the money,’ he jokes. ‘My other job takes me around the world. … I need to balance that. It provides an incredible balance for me, and it also helps me to set my priorities.’

This trip marked the third time Leavell has met with Members about how to fit forests into the farm bill. He says he’s thought about running for office but ultimately decided to stay out because of ‘the scrutiny that one goes through to get to those positions.’

‘It’s all throwing tomatoes at each other,’ Leavell says. ‘It’s so silly.’

While Leavell stuck mostly to forests during his trip, he hinted the Stones might hit the road again. ‘I can tell you that 2012 is the 50th anniversary of the band,’ he says.

Overheard on the Hill

‘What is it about Palin and Twitter? Is it that 140 characters represents the maximum length of Palin’s attention span?’

‘ Rep. Alan Grayson in a Thursday tweet. The Florida Democrat attached a link to a note on his Facebook page in which he lambasts former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin for her use of Twitter.

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