Leave your scandal at the door: The more the merrier on honoring retiring lawmakers

The United States Capitol Historical Society is preparing to honor 50 retiring members of Congress on Sept. 24 in Statuary Hall. The 40 Republicans and 10 Democrats will be honored for their collective 754 years of service.

The philosophy of the event seems to be: the more the merrier. Even scandal-ridden lawmakers will be among those honored. They include Reps. John Doolittle (R-Calif.), Vito Fossella (R-N.Y.) and Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), all of whom are retiring at the end of this Congress under a cloud of scandal.

“We are not saluting anything,” said Ron Serasin, the society’s president, when asked if he saw a problem with “saluting” members embroiled in scandal. But he suggested things might be different for a convicted member.

“Cloud or not, if they were convicted of something, that would be another story,” he said.

Mary Hughes, the society’s director of marketing, verified Monday morning that invitations to all retiring members have already gone out. “To my knowledge, nothing is changing,” she said.

Trouble stirred in 2006 when the U.S. Capitol Historical Society planned a reception for retiring lawmakers that included former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.), who at the time was beginning his prison term for bribery.

Another retiring lawmaker honored that year was former Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who resigned after being indicted. At the time, co-hosts for the event included then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), -Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and -Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Pelosi refused to participate as host unless the society removed Cunningham and DeLay from the roster of honorees. Cunningham was dropped, but not DeLay, and Pelosi did not attend.

The society has asked all of the Congress’s leadership to host the upcoming event, but has not received official word on whether Pelosi will declare this year’s event fit for her attendance.

 

‘Battle in Seattle’ comes to Washington

Fresh from the Democratic and Republican national conventions, film director Stuart Townsend is on a mission in Washington this week: to promote his film “Battle in Seattle,” which recounts the World Trade Organization riots in 1999. He also wants to avoid police in riot gear.

At the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., Townsend appeared at a screening of his film. When he emerged, he faced thousands of protesters, including an anarchist smashing the windows of a local business and hundreds of riot cops.

“If you’re going to smash something, go smash Starbucks or Bank of America,” Townsend said in a sit-down interview with ITK Monday morning. “That really pissed me off.”

The riot hemmed Townsend and his posse in for about three hours until they escaped through the local Macy’s. “It was just sort of surreal and reminded me that police presence is overwhelming and intimidating and somewhat suppresses free speech,” he said.

Townsend is the longtime boyfriend of actress Charlize Theron, but she isn’t joining him on his D.C. jaunt. He says he hasn’t spent much time here aside from a 2005 anti-war rally, and is staying at the Paramount Hotel off Dupont Circle. He’ll catch up with Theron and the other actors in the movie — Woody Harrelson, Ray Liotta and Connie Nielsen — on Wednesday night in Manhattan for
the premiere.

For Townsend, this has been a family affair. On set was a cinematographer he’d worked with three times. On screen was Theron’s best friend in real life, who played her friend in the movie.

“It was good,” he said of working with Theron. “We’ve worked together before.”

The director, who is a Democrat, has grown weary of the presidential election, saying, “I’m over it. I think I followed it for too long. I’ve really seen for the first time ever how insular America is, how it’s so occupied with itself.”

Townsend, who is Irish and can’t vote, openly supports Sen. Barack Obama’s (D-Ill.) candidacy, but is shaky on GOP vice presidential pick Sarah Palin.

“A lot of people are calling her stupid, like [comedian] Bill Maher, but I don’t think she is. I thought she did incredibly well at deflecting,” he said.

“I think [ABC’s] Charlie Gibson should run for president,” he said of the broadcaster who interviewed Palin last week.

In all seriousness, he added, “I don’t agree with her on anything, but she has spiced up the race.”


And one and two and … punch the candidates’ lights out

Republican and Democratic exercise enthusiasts will be pleased to hear that sports clubs along the East Coast are giving voters a chance to get toned and deal with their election aggression by throwing blows at a picture of presidential hopefuls Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) or Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), depending on one’s political preference.

The new exercise, in which a candidate’s photo is placed on a punching bag or on the sparring mitts of a trainer, is called “Voter TKO.” It is part of the new series of 12 “VOTERobics” offered by New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington Sports Clubs this election season. The circuit of exercises urges participants to feed off their politically charged energy for a complete muscular and cardiovascular workout.

“It’s getting people pumped up to vote,” said Elaina Enjetti, spokeswoman for Washington Sports Club. “It’s a fun way to get especially the younger crowd working out and ready for the election.”

Other exercises in the circuit include “The Grand Old Pushups” (a series of pushups off of a step), “The Donkey Kick” (hands on the floor, body in push up like position, bringing one knee in towards chest, switching legs quickly), “Balance the Budget” (stand on a balance board on one foot with eyes closed), “Running for Office” (run in place, with high knee lifts and “butt kicks”), and the “Elephant Walk” (squat thrusts, or “burpees”).

Washington Sports Club offered its last political punching class last Monday. New York will offer the class through October, and Boston and Philadelphia will offer it until the end of September.


Scarborough, Olbermann take separate cars

MSNBC “Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough was spotted in the limousine/cab line at Denver International Airport on the day before the Democratic National Convention. It was mere minutes before his colleague, Keith Olbermann, arrived and stood in the same line and pounded away on his BlackBerry.

Could the two have shared a long ride into town and saved the network some cash? Perhaps they could have hashed out their political differences and enjoyed Denver’s breathtakingly beautiful sky.

Any bonding would have been short-lived considering the two got into a televised spat a week later at the Republican National Convention, when Olbermann became convinced that Scarborough was regurgitating GOP talking points and poll numbers and Scarborough insinuated Olbermann was an obvious supporter of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).

Scarborough to Olbermann: “Get a shovel, Keith, my god.” And later in that same broadcast: “Would you like me to get another shovel?”

Alana Russo, an NBC spokeswoman, downplayed the extent to which Scarborough and Olbermann are sparring. “Joe and Keith could certainly share a car if needed, and probably have. However, since I’m fairly certain they weren’t staying at the same hotel, it seems like a moot point,” Russo wrote in an e-mail.