He left his heart in the Cannon Caucus Room

Tony Bennett, America’s greatest living crooner, was treated to an early 80th birthday celebration Tuesday night on the Hill.

Tony Bennett, America’s greatest living crooner, was treated to an early 80th birthday celebration Tuesday night on the Hill.

“ASCAP invited me,” Bennett said, referring to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, which he called the keepers of “the American songbook, the greatest tradition that we’ll ever have.”

Bennett said he wasn’t sure if he’d be singing later in the night, although he confessed to us that he’d “already warmed up” as long we agreed not to tip anyone off.

Bennett, looking fit for his 79 1/2 years, displayed a politician’s savvy for working a room during the pre-dinner reception with songwriters and composers, and remained cool while a mad scrum of photographers descended upon him.

Then it was on to dinner in the Cannon Caucus Room, where several members showed up to rub elbows with the icon. Among them: Sens. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Gene Green (D-Texas).

Actor George Clooney, who was supposed to attend, was a no-show.

After dinner, an array of singers feted Bennett, including Ben E. King of “Stand by Me” fame and Dianne Reeves, featured in the film “Good Night, and Good Luck.”

And never one to disappoint, Bennett regaled the crowd with “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” to close the evening.

Bennett, who turns 80 in August, said he’s committed to doing a birthday special on NBC sometime around Thanksgiving, which will feature Sting, Bono and Elton John, among others.



Putnam: McKinney’s got nothing on me

Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) won’t be getting sympathy from Rep. Adam Putnam (R-Fla.) about being stopped at security checkpoints anytime soon.

Despite the fact he’s just been elected by his peers to chair the House Republican Policy Committee, the fresh-faced Putnam, the second-youngest member of Congress, is all too familiar with the routine of proving to Capitol Hill’s finest that yes, he is in fact a member of Congress.

“I’ll put my name up against hers anytime,” said Putnam, 31. “I always get stopped, and I’ve never hit anyone.”

McKinney is accused of striking a U.S. Capitol Police officer with her cell phone last week. McKinney was not wearing her identifying congressional pin, and tried to bypass the metal detector, when the officer stopped her.

“It is not a big deal” to be stopped, Putnam said. “They’re here to protect us. I’ve been stopped without a pin, with a pin — which is much more fun. I’ve been asked for ID. Heck, I’ve been carded at Bullfeathers.”


Muslim staffers launch organization

Muslim congressional aides who have been meeting informally for years have established a formal organization to reach out to their Hill colleagues.

“After 9/11 and the Danish cartoon controversy, we realized we are in a unique position on Capitol Hill,” said Nayyera Haq, press secretary for Rep. John Salazar (D-Colo.).

“People don’t know who to talk to and who to ask” about Islam. “Ultimately, it affects policy,” added Jameel Aalim-Johnson, chief of staff for Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.).

Last year, Meeks agreed to sponsor the Congressional Muslim Staffers Association, and the House Administration Committee approved it in October.

The group held its first outreach event yesterday in Rayburn, a lunchtime viewing and discussion of the PBS documentary “Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet” with producer Alex Kronemer and Georgetown professor John Voll. Aalim-Johnson, incidentally, appears in the film.

Said Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), who spoke at the lunch, “There’s a lack of basic understanding. Before we talk about radical Islam, we don’t even know what Islam is.”



Three of a kind oppose banning poker

“Dude, I just got my picture taken with Chris ‘Jesus’ Ferguson!”

Thus said a staffer, cell phone pressed firmly to ear, as he left the Longworth cafeteria Tuesday night.

Ferguson is none other than the black-hatted, steely-eyed 2000 World Series of Poker champ, and a fan favorite. He held court at the evening reception along with 2004 champ Greg “Fossilman” Raymer and No-Limit Texas Hold ’Em pioneer Howard Lederer.

About 150 staffers and a few members, including Reps. John Carter (R-Texas) and Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.), pressed the players for tips and posed alongside them for photos (which would be available for purchase online, natch).

The three were in town for a two-day PR blitz to help defeat three bills aimed at banning online gambling.

After a round of media interviews and a Hill press conference Tuesday, they set out for Walter Reed hospital, where they played a few hands with wounded soldiers. Ferguson performed one of his favorite tricks there, slicing a carrot in half by throwing a card.

Yesterday it was back to the Hill for meetings with members on both sides of the issue.

Their point? That poker is inherently a game of skill and should be regulated differently than games of chance, such as lotteries. “We don’t believe in luck,” said Raymer, who won his seat at the 2004 event from an online tournament.

“In the long run, the better player will always prevail,” Ferguson said.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), the sponsor of one of the bills, said his legislation is focused on helping states “do what they have historically done — regulate gambling, and gambling is illegal in almost every state.”

He also disputed the players’ contention that skill predominates.

“Each hand dealt is entirely at random, and that is entirely a game of chance,” he said. “These guys who do very well at it are the exception, not the rule.”


Conservatives join with left on Iraq resolution

Three of the House’s most conservative members made common cause with the left wing of the Democratic Party yesterday as they signed a discharge petition that would reopen debate on the House floor over Iraq.

“It’s not easy for a member of one party or another to go down to the floor to sign a discharge petition,” Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) said at a morning news conference. “When asked about possible ramifications of the move, he said, “I didn’t come to Washington to be a chairman.”

Joining Jones were Reps. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.), along with Democrat Neil Abercrombie (Hawaii).

Rep. Jim Leach (R-Iowa) has already signed the petition, along with nearly 80 Democrats.

The move puts the Republicans in an unusual spot. The news conference was promoted by Win Without War, the coalition of left-wing groups like MoveOn.org, NOW and the NAACP, which has opposed the war from the outset.

Former Rep. Tom Andrews (D-Maine), now the national director of Win Without War, said volunteers would be knocking on doors and ads would be run in several states, urging members to sign the petition.

Leadership aides could not be reached before going to print.

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