By Emily Heil - 01/09/07 12:00 AM EST
Dennis Kucinich is a give-peace-a-chance kind of guy. During his last run for his party’s presidential nomination, the Ohio Democrat famously suggested establishing a federal Department of Peace. And he’s a hero among the anti-war flower-power crowd. Last Thursday, he showed that he takes peacemaking personally.
During the House swearing-in ceremony, it was Kucinich who brokered the much-noted meeting between Rep. Virgil Goode (R-Va.) and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.). Goode caused a stir last month when he blasted Ellison’s decision to use a copy of the Koran for his oath of office. Ellison is a practicing Muslim, a first for Congress.
During some down time on the chamber floor (and there was plenty of it on Thursday), Kucinich walked with Ellison over to where Goode was standing and introduced the two members. While their handshake wasn’t exactly a Camp David moment, it did strike a conciliatory note to start the new Congress. Asked about it afterwards, Kucinich was modest about his role in the mini-peace summit.
“The Bible commands us to make peace with our brothers, and the Muslim greeting is ‘As-Sal?mu `Alaykum,’ or ‘peace be upon you,’ ” Kucinich said. He noted that Goode has been a friend for years and that he had campaigned for Ellison. “I know them both; both are good people,” he said. “Good people ought to meet and get to know each other.”
With that kind of track record, maybe we should have Kucinich tackle that pesky Israeli-Palestinian thing.
It’s her party
Yeah, yeah, we heard all about how Thursday’s swearing-in ceremony was the grand arrival of the new era of bipartisanship. But anyone there knew that it was Nancy’s party, and the rest of us were just guests. That’s Nancy, as in Madame Speaker, the honorable gentlewoman from California.
Amid the pomp and glamour, we tried to ask prominent members of the incoming Democratic majority about their first policy and political moves in the new Congress, but they all deferred to their new leader. “This is her show, her moment,” said Rep. Henry Waxman, a fellow Californian and the new chairman of the Government Reform committee, as he scooted onto the chamber floor.
Legions of FONs (Friends of Nancy) in the Capitol to witness the changing of the guard sported lapel pins in her honor. “Madame Speaker 2007,” read one stylish metal pin seen on the shoulders of some very expensive suits. Another featured the iconic Rosie the Riveter image and the phrase “A woman’s place is in the House…as Leader!”.
Along with her celebrity fans (Tony Bennett, Richard Gere and Carole King), former Pelosi staffers were among the throng around the Capitol, although they were a bit bleary from the previous night’s informal reunion. Eighteen or so former Pelosi peeps gathered at La Loma on Massachusetts Ave. to reminisce about the good old days. “It was five hours of storytelling,” said Judy Lemons, who was Pelosi’s chief of staff for nearly 15 years before leaving her office about five years ago. “It’s been amazing to watch her go from No. 435 to No. 1.”
The adventures of Ellison
The House swearing-in ceremonies made for a big day, too, for Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the first Muslim to serve in Congress. Ellison’s adventures started when, although he has arguably gotten more press than any other member of his class, the Capitol Police didn’t recognize him.
An unaccompanied Ellison emerged from the throng that was rushing into the Capitol shortly before noon Thursday, when the House convened to open the 110th Congress, but he was stopped before he even got to the door.
At the foot of the marble stairs on the south side of the Capitol, a police officer held up his hand and politely demanded to know who the hurried fellow was. Ellison calmly responded that he was a new member but that he didn’t have any credentials to prove it.
This impasse between the almost-congressman and the dutiful cop was over a split second later when Ellison produced his official congressional Blackberry, which was good enough for the officer.
Once inside, Ellison’s escapades continued. His headline-making use of a copy of the Koran for taking his oath of office was accompanied by quite a bit of ceremony itself. Jim Billington, Librarian of Congress, accompanied the Koran once owned by Thomas Jefferson to the Rayburn Room for the ceremonial swearing-in. Mark Dimunation, chief of the Library’s Rare Books division and a native of Ellison’s Minneapolis district, carried the book to the Capitol.
But even if the illustrious courier hadn’t arrived, Ellison would have had other options. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), who is Jewish, said he offered to lend Ellison his copy of the Koran as well.
Ellison’s spokesman Rick Jauart said Ellison’s wife brought his copy of the Koran just in case, adding that Ellison, who is renting the basement of Jauart’s Capitol Hill townhouse, set out for the Capitol Thursday morning but came back to ask if he could borrow Jauart’s copy as well, just in case.
And unfortunately, Ellison’s troubles getting access to the chamber continued on Thursday. He was overheard telling a House doorkeeper about some difficulties he was having getting his wife and children seated in the gallery.
Clinton gets hero’s welcome, hugs at Capitol
Even though there were honest-to-goodness celebs on hand for the congressional swearing-in ceremonies, a familiar Washington face got the most fawning attention. Former President Bill Clinton showed up in the Rayburn Building’s horseshoe on Thursday, where he was greeted by Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.), his wife, and his daughter, Alexandra, as well as a throng of surprised reporters, tourists and staffers.
Clinton, looking thin and tan, stepped out of his black SUV, and Secret Service agents promptly cordoned off the entranceway. But one little Clinton fan didn’t let the security deter her. Five-year-old Alexandra Sestak, who had met the former prez during a fundraiser he did for her father, grabbed Clinton’s knees in a bear hug and would not let go. Living up to his rep as a ladies’ man, Clinton picked her up and said, “Hi, beautiful.”
A nearby group of men wearing jackets reading “Vietnam Veterans” appeared jealous of the attention Clinton was giving the congressman’s family. “Bill, give me a hug,” one of the guys shouted.
A Sestak spokesman said that Clinton and little Alexandra, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor, share a “special bond.” “He’s her favorite,” said the spokesman. “President Clinton has an affinity for people, particularly those who are suffering.”
Clinton had others clamoring for his attention. Women begged for photos, and the ever-obliging former prez posed with them.
Good luck with that FOIA request, Rep. Brady
Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) really, really wants the American people to know what goes on in the House Rules Committee. He objected to the rule package Democrats brought to the House floor last week, saying it would shield the goings-on of the Rules panel’s decisions.
But the crafty Mr. Brady had a plan, one that has occurred to more than a few sunlight-seeking Congress-watchers: Let’s file a Freedom of Information Act on them! “Cloaking this committee in secrecy, where backroom deals are shielded from the American voter, is an outrageous and arrogant step backward from open and honest government,” he said on the House floor last Friday. “And, sadly, I will file a Freedom of Information Act request on every Rules Committee vote so that the American public can see what this committee is trying to hide.”
Sadly, as the congressman says, the American people just might have to stay in the dark. Courtesy of an act of Congress, the FOIA law does not apply to records of Congress.
Brady tells us that he realized his error “almost as soon as the words were out of my mouth.” Instead of filing, Brady says he’ll be keeping a close watch to see if the Rules panel’s reports include vote tallies.
Jonathan E. Kaplan, Albert Eisele, Jeffrey Young and Jackie Kucinich contributed to this page.