By Kris Kitto - 12/16/09 11:00 AM EST
Politics in 2009 began with a news event dictated largely by tradition and ceremony – President Obama’s inauguration – and saw a second epic event in the death and burial of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) But it also delivered numerous stories that have no precedent. Not only did revelations like South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford’s (R) love affair with an Argentine woman surprise and captivate even the we’ve-seen-it-all insider Washington crowd, but also the Balloon Boy saga demonstrated that the most unbelievable of stories almost always have an angle concerning the nation’s capital (The Federal Aviation Administration launched an investigation into the silver orb that attracted international attention).
As we prepare for 2010 – and whatever twists and turns it may bring – The Hill looks back on a few of the more memorable events of 2009 and the previous trends they overtook.
IN: Members and former members of Congress appearing on reality tv
OUT: Lawmakers making cameos in movies and scripted TV shows
Meanwhile, freshman Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.) agreed to let CNN film their first year in Congress for a series called “Freshman Year.” Polis also appears in the promotions for MTV’s latest season of the “Real World,” which was filmed in Washington and premieres later this month.
What Congress saw less of this year is members making cameo appearances in movies, TV dramas and sitcoms. In 2008 Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) gushed about his bit part in the Batman movie “The Dark Knight,” and “Saturday Night Live” was practically a required campaign stop during the presidential elections. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) in the past has appeared on “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Gilmore Girls,” among other movies and shows, but Hollywood’s appetite for lawmakers’ faces seemed to cool in 2009. (More popular over the past year were political parodies, with SNL and “30 Rock” in particular cracking frequent jokes about Congress and the White House.)
Special mention: Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) pulled off perhaps the biggest congressional television surprise of the year when she appeared at Michael Jackson’s memorial, presenting a resolution honoring the pop star that the House never passed.
IN: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the maverick
OUT: Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the maverick
Graham’s efforts to work across the aisle in 2009 earned him a rebuke from one of his state’s GOP organizations and grumbling from other party members. He and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) co-authored a New York Times editorial on climate legislation in October, and he also voted for the Democratic-crafted bank bailout known as TARP earlier this year.
As for McCain, talk of his ability to “kick over some tables” to get things done in Washington died down as he settled quietly back into his role in the Senate following his unsuccessful 2008 presidential bid. More recently he has been re-establishing himself as Congress’s rabble-rouser, but his daughter Meghan seems to get more headlines these days, challenging the GOP to change its stance on same-sex marriage and taking on MSNBC’s Chris Matthews for derogatory comments on the military.
The Senate scene-stealer: Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) virtually stopped all work in the Capitol in April when he announced his departure from the Republican Party, a move that created the 60-senator supermajority for the Democrats.
IN: Senators being appointed to Congress
OUT: Superdelegate politics
The appointments of Sens. Roland Burris (D-Ill.), Ted Kaufman (D-Del.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), George LeMieux (R-Fla.) and Paul Kirk (D-Mass.) ignited all sorts of politicking and infighting. (Burris practically derailed the Democrats’ legislative agenda for a couple of weeks at the beginning of the year.) The result is the biggest corps of appointed senators in 62 years.
Appointee politics filled the hole that 2008’s superdelegate politics left. Practically every time Democratic senators turned a corner in the Capitol that year, they were harassed about whom they were supporting in the Democratic presidential primary.
Always IN: Distancing oneself from the radioactive senator du jour. Burris had few friends when he arrived in the Senate, thanks to the cloud of corruption that hovered over his appointment, and Republicans scattered into the Capitol’s crevices when Sen. John Ensign’s (R-Nev.) extramarital affair was revealed in June.
IN: Tea Partiers
OUT: Obama’s grassroots following
In October, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) made another one of her off-the-cuff remarks on Fox News, inviting the so-called “tea partiers” and anyone else outraged by the proposed healthcare overhaul to show up on the Capitol lawn for a rally. Thousands answered her call, waving their protest signs and chanting, “We want Michele!”
Bachmann’s event came on the heels of an August in which members of Congress from all across the country encountered vociferous picketers during their healthcare town hall meetings.
2008’s grassroots success, Obama’s presidential campaign, formed Organize for America this year but got upstaged by the Tea Partiers’ persistence.
Where’d they go? Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) garnered a disproportionately large Web following during his otherwise small 2008 presidential campaign, but while Paul continues to fight government growth from his House seat, his acolytes made little noise this year.
IN: Congressional remarriages
OUT: Congressional dating
Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) announced his marriage, to Democratic state Rep. Margaret Cheney, shortly after the 111th Congress began. Former Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.) married retired airline pilot James Cieslak just before leaving Capitol Hill for the State Department in June. Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) married Patty Martin in September. And Rep. Mary Fallin (R-Okla.) married Oklahoma City attorney Wade Christensen last month. It’s each member’s second marriage.
Congressional dating, however, seemed to be on the decline in 2009. Other than Sen. Max Baucus’s (D-Mont.) fraught admission to dating Melodee Hanes, his former state director, other members on the market either curtailed their dating lives or successfully kept such activity under wraps. Plenty of single lawmakers remain, and a few — Reps. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) and Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) among them — continually cause wide romantic speculation.
Up next: It’s wedding bells for Reps. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) and Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.). In May, Weiner proposed to Huma Abedin, a longtime aide to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. McHenry proposed to Government Accountability Office economist Giulia Cangiano in September.
IN: Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue
OUT: Congress members’ books
The 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate quit her job as Alaska governor in July, and four months later she was back on a campaign-style motorcoach blitzing the lower 48 states with her book, Going Rogue. Details that trickled out from Palin’s memoir took up the better part of several news cycles, and the book remains at the top of The New York Times best-sellers list.
Members of Congress, on the other hand, scaled back their rapid book-writing from 2008, when Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and scores of other lawmakers released their tomes.
A Webb protégé? With at least six novels (and two works of nonfiction) to his name, Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) is the unofficial novelist-in-residence in Congress. But Boxer may give him a run for his money. In July she released her second co-written novel, Blind Trust — though it’s not too much of a stretch from reality. The protagonist is a liberal female U.S. senator.
Katy Hopkins contributed to this story.