Bliley: Dump the new rules, stat

Former Rep. Tom Bliley (R-Va.), a powerful gavel-swinger at the Commerce Committee in the late 1990s, is no fan of new House rules that prevent lobbyists who were lawmakers from stalking the floor during votes or using the chamber’s gym.

Former Rep. Tom Bliley (R-Va.), a powerful gavel-swinger at the Commerce Committee in the late 1990s, is no fan of new House rules that prevent lobbyists who were lawmakers from stalking the floor during votes or using the chamber’s gym.

The new rule looks more favorably on former members who are convicted felons, such as Jim Traficant (D-Ohio), than former members who are registered lobbyists, Bliley complained in a hallway outside the House chamber last week.

Bliley, who often visits the House floor, said he used to use the gym frequently and attends events of the Chowder and Marching Club — the House Republican “secret society” — near the Speaker’s suite of offices.

“To show you how stupid it is, when he gets out of prison Traficant ... will be able to use the gym as a former member because he’s not a lobbyist,” Bliley said.

Indeed, said one House source familiar with the situation, Traficant’s privileges remain intact, as do those of former Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.), who just resigned amid a graft scandal. “I don’t believe it was really raised as an issue,” given the lengthy prison terms both men face, said the source.

Many of Bliley’s old colleagues agree. Several lamented the new rules in a Cannon House Office Building washroom just a few feet from where Republicans were voting on a new majority leader last week. One suggested dumping the rule as soon as possible — perhaps this session.


NBC’s Williams apologizes after Obama-Ford mix-up

“NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams told The Hill that he wrote Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (D-Tenn.) letters of apology last week after he confused the two men at the State of the Union address.

During NBC’s broadcast, Williams noticed Obama on the House floor and identified him to the viewing audience. Unfortunately, it was actually Ford.

“I made a silly and honest mistake, and knowing both men I knew instantly what I had done,” a contrite and gracious Williams said in a phone call. “I obviously should have corrected it, but the proper time never arose.”

Williams isn’t alone. Rewind to last’s year’s State of the Union. Another reporter asked Obama’s office why he hugged the president. Again, it was Ford.

People mix them up plenty, even though the Capitol Rotunda separates the two men on most workdays. And “they don’t look that much alike,” one Senate staffer said. That they get confused at all is “pretty amazing,” one House aide lamented.

Neither Ford nor Obama’s offices would comment.

The two lawmakers are good friends, and Ford even campaigned for Obama in 2004.

If Ford is successful in getting himself elected to the Senate this fall, the mix-ups may deepen.


Actors Hunter, Neeson  to perform at LoC next week

Hollywood star power returns to the Hill on Monday, as Liam Neeson and Holly Hunter portray Abraham and Mary Lincoln at the Library of Congress.

The Oscar-winning Hunter (“The Piano”) and Oscar-nominated Neeson (“Schindler’s List”) take the lead roles in “The Lincoln Family Album.” Written by Harold Holzer of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the production presents the letters and public speeches of the Lincolns, along with photographs of their family.

The 7 p.m. performance caps a day of meetings by the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, which Congress chartered to plan a “fitting and proper” celebration of Lincoln’s 200th birthday in 2009.

The performance is free and open to the public, but tickets, available through Ticketmaster, are required.

The practice ought to serve Neeson well. He is set to portray the 16th president in an upcoming Steven Spielberg film based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s recent book, Team of Rivals.


Crowley: ‘Secret-service style’ planning for vice chair race

Sometimes all the planning in the world doesn’t equal a win. Just ask the Seattle Seahawks. Or Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.).

In the run-up to last week’s race for vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, observers marveled at the technological savvy and training-camp intensity of the Crowley team.

Crowley’s staff met all day on the Sunday before the vote, game-planning every possible scenario for the Tuesday ballots. And on the big day, the staffers sported “these Secret Service-style” earpieces, according to a Democratic source, adding, “It was all very cloak and dagger.”

“It was a huge logistical challenge, and at the end it was a huge political challenge as well,” said Crowley’s chief of staff, Chris McCannell.

He added that both Crowley’s staff and members of his whip team “worked a tremendous number of hours on this, and we wouldn’t have gotten the number of votes we did if we hadn’t.”

But in the end, it was Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.) who walked away with the prize.

Not that Larson’s camp didn’t run through some war-game scenarios of its own. His campaign chairwoman, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), ran a close race for caucus chairwoman in 2000, and the Larson people took “lessons from her game plan,” a Larson ally said. They discussed “minute by minute” how they saw the day unfolding from breakfast onward, he said.


Conyers’s controversial tome gets hardcover treatment

Looking for something for your coffee table? Skeptical of the Bush administration and the war in Iraq?

Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) has something for you. The ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee is marketing a hardcover version of “The Constitution in Crisis,” the report issued by the committee’s Democratic staff late last year that details “The Downing Street Minutes and Deception, Manipulation, Torture, Retribution, and Coverups in the Iraq War.”

The bound version boasts a new introduction by Joseph Wilson, the former ambassador whose CIA agent wife was outed by administration officials.

It’s not out until spring, but Conyers is taking advance orders of signed copies through his blog, at www.conyersblog.us, for minimum donations of $60 to his campaign coffer.

The $60, he tells visitors, assists Democrats’ efforts to win back the House. And when “the House returns to the Democrats, I will have the power to subpoena Bush administration officials to answer questions and face the consequences for their abuses of power.”

But Ed Patru, spokesman for the Republican National Congressional Committee, suggests Conyers’s team isn’t up to the task.

Referring to allegations last year that members of Conyers’s staff took turkeys from a Detroit food bank and passed them to their cronies, Patru said, “Conyers and his staff can’t even be trusted with holiday turkeys, much less control of the Judiciary Committee.”


The Powell of Seville

Colin Powell had a bit of a surprise in store for opera great Placido Domingo on his birthday late last month at a Kennedy Center reception for high-level donors to the Washington National Opera.

The former secretary of state, appearing as an honorary guest, abruptly serenaded Domingo with his own rendition of “Happy Birthday.”

An appreciative Domingo, who directs the opera company, was all smiles, said an informant who was in the room.

So how were Powell’s pipes? “Not great. But better than you’d expect,” the source said.