Club smoking ban a drag for Republicans, not Democrats

Looks like members of Congress will just have to huddle out of doors, with their cold, shivery fingers gripping their cigarettes, just like the rest of us. Or at least the Republican ones will.

Looks like members of Congress will just have to huddle out of doors, with their cold, shivery fingers gripping their cigarettes, just like the rest of us. Or at least the Republican ones will.

Although House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Wednesday banned smoking in the once notoriously nicotine-friendly Speaker’s Lobby, Democrats can still retire to the comforts of the Democratic National Club for a smoke. The venue, located just blocks from the Capitol, offers a bar, dining room, and private dining and meeting spaces. And the private club still permits smoking in certain areas, even though there’s a distinctly anti-smoker vibe in the air, what with D.C. instituting a smoking ban at the beginning of the year and cigarettes being snuffed out in the Speaker’s Lobby.

But the Dem club’s Republican counterpart, the Capitol Hill Club, is taking the no-butts climate to (a presumably healthier) heart. The club has banned smoking in the facility beginning Jan. 2, a club employee tells us.

 Former Hill scribe is back as Kerry flack

Hey, isn’t that Vince Morris trolling the halls of the Senate? Yep, the former New York Post scribe-turned-spokesman for former D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams has returned to his Hill roots as the new communications director for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.).

Morris is a familiar face: He covered the Hill and national politics for the New York Post until he joined Hizzoner’s office in 2005. And, perhaps more importantly, he was named one of the Capitol’s most beautiful people in The Hill’s annual and oh-so-exclusive list.

Morris, who began his new job this week, says he’s happily adjusting to being on the other side of congressional reporters’ notebooks. One bonus: “I can go more places I couldn’t before with a staff ID,” he says. “But I can’t tell you about it.”

An Amherst, Mass., native, he says he’s always admired Kerry and liked his staff, so he was easily recruited for the job once Williams’s tenure came to an end. “And I was unemployed, so I was pretty easily wooed,” he jokes.

Band of brothers unites

Here’s a little hope for fostering good relations between the House and Senate: Congress has two — count ’em, two — pairs of brothers bridging the chambers, and the brother caucuses gathered for a little fraternity meeting last week.

Although the House boasts two sibling pairs — the sisters Sanchez (Reps. Loretta and Linda, both California Democrats) and the brothers Diaz-Balart (Reps. Lincoln and Mario, Republicans from Florida) — the House-Senate combos are a first, half of one of them, Rep. John Salazar (D-Colo.), boasted.

He and his younger brother, Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.), posed for a picture with bros Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) during the swearing-in ceremonies last week.

And for the record, mom, there was absolutely no bickering.

Rangel vs. Thomas, round 837

We just couldn’t pry a snarky word out of Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) about former Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), who retired last year. We tried, really, pressing the famously bombastic Rangel to spill some dirt. 

But he wouldn’t dish on Thomas, under whom he served as the committee’s ranking member, even though the two frequently exchanged sarcasm-laden sentiments during public hearings. So we were surprised to read the recent profile of Rangel in New York magazine, in which Rangel has some rather unflattering assessments of the retired Thomas.

Sure, he criticizes the way Thomas ran the committee, spouting familiar tropes of the repressed minority stifled under Republican power. “All those years, he never once asked me for a vote,” Rangel says in the profile. “He did everything he could to stifle debate and the democratic process in general.”

But the harshest assessment was personal: “The man has no personality. None,” the mag quotes Rangel as saying. Ouch.

A Rangel spokesman had no comment.


System of a Down down on Denny

Usually, celebrity visits to the Capitol are carefully choreographed. Unless the celebs in question happen to be a brash heavy-metal band on a mission to expose worldwide genocide and they just happen to bump into the Speaker of the House, who happens to be blocking an anti-genocide bill.

So goes a scene in “Screamers,” a film to be screened in Washington next Wednesday, in which the members of rock outfit System of a Down accidentally meet up with former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill).

The band’s members, who are all Armenian and the grandsons of genocide survivors, are expected to be on hand for the screening of the documentary, which aims to shine a light on genocide, from the Holocaust to the conflict in Darfur. Organizers are also hoping to snag genocide activist-actors George Clooney and Don Cheadle for the event at the Library of Congress.   

Reps. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) also will attend, organizers say, to coincide with Schiff’s re-introduction of legislation reaffirming opposition to genocide.

Director Carla Garapedian, a BBC reporter, said the band was in town last April for a screening of some of the film’s scenes  — she edited out the rock stars’ swear words “so we didn’t make the members of Congress or staffers uncomfortable” — when the band had its run-in with Hastert. Hastert gave them a big brush-off when asked if he’d read their letter calling for a vote on the genocide bill.

She says the film aims to link incidences of genocide around the world and from different eras, and that rockers can succeed in spreading awareness in ways that journalists and public officials can’t. “This film focuses on young people,” she says. “This is a generation that is not going to tolerate it.”