In the know


The Zen of Majority Leader John Boehner

He doesn’t do yoga. He tans easily. And he smokes up a storm.

So why is it that House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) seems so mellow all the time, the same as before he ascended to the second highest position in the House?

Some observers insist that the new post has not changed him or gone to his head. Another hypothesis is that he has taught reporters to give him space when he ventures into the Speaker’s Lobby. Insiders say he doesn’t want throngs of reporters encircling him every time he enters a room; he has certain spots where reporters know not to bother him — namely the smoker’s corner of the lobby, which is often a second home to GOP lawmakers such as Tom Latham (Iowa), Mike Simpson (Idaho) and Thaddeus McCotter (Mich.).

“This is the Speaker’s Lobby, that is the Leader’s Lobby,” one observer said, gesturing to the corner.

Another place where Boehner is not to be bothered is a special leather bench that faces out a window onto the East Front of the Capitol.

“I’m just so happy he hasn’t had to take a hiding spot,” another observer said. “I’m just so happy that he hasn’t changed. I’m just so happy that it hasn’t made him into a different person.”

In other Boehner “nice guy” news, people were thrilled last week when he interrupted the agriculture bill on the floor to announce that there would be no Friday votes. “That never happens,” a Capitol employee noted. “He isn’t trying to be different than [former Majority Leader Tom] DeLay [R-Texas] and be the nice guy. He was always the nice guy.”



Guess who’s coming to dinner!

Members of the all-Democratic Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) were more than a little bit surprised when black Republican Senate candidate Michael Steele of Maryland showed up at their fundraiser last week.

Steele came in at the end of the evening, no check in hand, onlookers said.

“You can’t just come in here without a check!” Rep. Al Wynn (D-Md.), chairman of the CBC PAC, joked to Steele.

Steele spokesman Doug Heye said the candidate, Maryland’s lieutenant governor, had been invited to attend.

“He felt it would be a good opportunity to meet more of the membership. I know some people would be surprised that a statewide Republican would attend a Democratic event, but Michael Steele’s approach is so different from the usual Washington, D.C., mentality that for him it was a no-brainer.”



Rep. Herseth: ‘From bookworm to bombshell’

From the moment she arrived on Capitol Hill, Rep. Stephanie Herseth (D-S.D.) turned heads, but in the past two weeks she has gone from a first lady Laura Bush librarian type to a glam Hollywood starlet with reddish blond highlights and choppy layers that frame her face.

“You can’t even recognize her,” a Capitol employee noted.

Uh oh. Does this mean she’s going to pull a Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) and go unrecognized by Capitol Police? Well, not really. But the employee explained, “She has a new look. I think it’s a great change, from bookworm to bombshell.”



Idol winner sang at Bachus daughter’s wedding

No one had to tell Alabama Rep. Spencer Bachus (R) that fellow Alabaman Taylor Hicks, the winner in last week’s “American Idol” finale, had talent.

In 2003, the then-unknown Hicks sang at Bachus’s daughter Lisa’s wedding. The groom had met Hicks while the two were roommates at Auburn University, Bachus recalled while standing outside News Corp.’s “American Idol” finale party at Tortilla Coast last Wednesday. Hicks performed only one number at the wedding but apparently did not leave much of an impression. Neither Bachus nor his wife could remember what song it was.

Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) was not rooting for the eponymous Hicks.

“I’m voting for the babe even though the guy’s named Taylor,” the Mississippian Taylor declared outside Tortilla Coast.

What was it about Katharine McPhee that could win him over from fellow Southerner Hicks? Was it her singing ability, her stage presence, her likable personality?

Rep. Taylor worked it out for us: “She’s a helluva lot better looking than Taylor.”



Young’s outburst spices up otherwise boring day

Expressing his annoyance about the long-winded rhetoric on an energy bill on the House floor last Thursday, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) stepped out of the chamber and into the Speaker’s Lobby saying, “How many hours of this damn debate do we have?”

Those in the vicinity who heard the lawmaker’s outburst burst into laughter in response.



Sen. Smith releases memoir on son’s suicide

For anyone who has ever suffered grief or deep loss, the recently released book by Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), Remembering Garrett: One Family’s Battle with a Child’s Depression, published by Carroll & Graf Publishers, is a must-read.

In it, the senator, who dealt with his son’s suicide in 2003, chronicles what led up to the tragedy. His son suffered largely in silence with clinical depression.

In the 208-page memoir, Smith doesn’t waste time coming clean about his pain. After the introduction, written by fellow Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Smith begins with a heart-wrenching prologue. He writes about how he felt after police officers delivered the tragic news:

“As the door closed, shock and numbness held me for a moment above what looked to be the blackest depths of sorrow and failure. Joy vanished and years of striving and achieving now appeared as ashes to me. Success in business, service in church, election to the United States Senate — in an instant, it all seemed meaningless, even vain. I had failed to save my own son.”

Later, Smith recounts the trail of support he received from colleagues, many of whom have experienced great losses. Then-Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.) showed up at Smith’s door. He knew Smith’s pain intimately — his father had taken his own life, as did the father of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Nearly two years ago, Nickles and Reid discussed their loss during a floor discussion about Smith’s mental-health funding legislation, the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act. President Bush signed the bill into law in the fall of 2004.