A different sort of obstructionism

Sometimes, senatorial courtesy doesn’t even apply to a colleague from your own state. That seemed to be the case last week when Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) was deep into conversation with a reporter while standing in front of the “Senators only” elevator outside the Senate chamber.

Sometimes, senatorial courtesy doesn’t even apply to a colleague from your own state.

That seemed to be the case last week when Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) was deep into conversation with a reporter while standing in front of the “Senators only” elevator outside the Senate chamber.

Leahy apparently was unaware that an aide to Sen. Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.) was trying to steer Jeffords’ wheelchair around Leahy to board the elevator. Jeffords underwent knee replacement surgery at Bethesda Naval Hospital on May 31 and has been wheelchair-bound since being released two weeks ago.

Finally, Jeffords, 71, who announced in April that he won’t seek a fourth term next year, and his aide gave up and joined tourists and reporters in a public elevator.

And what was Leahy being so chatty about? He was recounting a recent meeting with President Bush where and Vice President Cheney swapped notes about their antique guns.

At least, as far as we know, there wasn’t any profanity involved.

Jeffords hurt his knee several years ago while snowshoeing on his property in Shrewsbury, Vt., after tripping over his dog’s leash and had been in pain in recent months. “Who would have guessed that snowshoeing could be such a dangerous sport?” said Jeffords, who has canceled his public appearances in Vermont this month.

Comic: ‘PC-ness has ruined liberalism’

Amid a rain of dirty words, with vulgar and racist jokes dancing in happy unity, comics called for the importance of absolute freedom of speech for their craft, as it represents an art form and plays an indispensable social role. At the panel “God Save the Dirty Joke,” nothing was sacred.

A highlight of the Silverdocs documentary film festival in Silver Spring, Md., the event Saturday starred comics Fred Willard, Gilbert Gottfried, Paul Provenza and Judy Gold. The moderator, Time’s Matt Cooper, who sometimes functions as a standup comic himself, had a hard time keeping the wild bunch under control.

All agreed that crossing the line makes audiences think but that people also love obscenity. Gottfried, who was one of the first comics to step back onstage after Sept. 11, said his vulgarity “brings the nation together.” Conclusion: There is no reason to watch your mouth and, after all, “if you add some spices, it will be a better stew,” Provenza said.

But the panelists repeatedly offered complaints about TV stations censoring material according to its ideas, not just its vocabulary, which ties hands and leaves the comics speechless. In addition, audiences sometimes give them a headache. People get offended and “close up” as touchy topics are being addressed, they agreed. “PC-ness has ruined liberalism in this country; PC has become conservative,” Provenza lamented.

Perhaps no moderator could have fit in better with this First Amendment-loving panel than Cooper, who apart from cracking wise himself is currently under indictment for failing to disclose his sources. He faces possible jail time if the Supreme Court declines to hear his case. “If you want to have free press, you have to protect confidentiality,” he said.

Texas A&M could host Dubya’s library

President George W. Bush may be a lame duck who went to Yale and Harvard, but that hasn’t reduced his appeal to several Texas universities that would like to host his presidential library.

And it looks as if Texas A&M may have the inside track to land the facility, expected to cost some $200 million, according to The Washington Times. That’s because the Aggies’ campus is already the site of Bush’s father’s library, which would make College Station the only town to have twin presidential libraries — and Texas the only state to have three such libraries. Former President Lyndon Johnson’s library is at the University of Texas in Austin.

Former President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara, often stay in an apartment at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library, which draws about 200,000 visitors annually, so they may well lobby to have their son’s library built nearby.

But a number of other Texas universities are bidding for the son’s library as well, including Southern Methodist University in Dallas, which has two things in its favor: It’s Laura Bush’s alma mater, and both she and her husband are Methodists.

Other possibilities are Baylor University in Waco, close to the Bushes’ ranch at Crawford, and two of the other 15 University of Texas campuses, in Midland and Arlington, home of the Texas Rangers, which once counted the president among its co-owners.

What’s happening on the Hill today …

• The so-called “Denver Three,” who were expelled earlier this year from an appearance by President Bush to promote his Social Security agenda, are in town today to pressure the White House to release information about the incident.

The three — Karen Bauer, Leslie Weise and Alex Young — will be meeting with Colorado Reps. Mark Udall (D) and Marilyn Musgrave (R). A majority of the Colorado delegation has denounced the Secret Service’s behavior, and the Secret Service has opened an investigation.

• She might just make it after all: Mary Tyler Moore and Olympic gold-medal swimmer Gary Hall are among those scheduled to testify before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee today on behalf of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Then Grammy-winning country artists Steve Wariner and Rudy Gatlin will lead 150 kids in singing the theme song for the foundation’s Children’s Congress 2005.

GOP lobbyist Abramoff is poised to unload restaurant

Beleaguered Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff is in discussions to sell his majority stake in Signatures, the popular Pennsylvania Avenue eatery he launched more than three years ago, The Hill has learned.

No deal has yet been inked, but, according to industry sources, among potential buyers Abramoff has been in talks with Mark Smith, president of the government-relations and PR shop the Da Vinci Group.

Reached by phone Abramoff spokespeople for Abramoff and the restaurant declined to comment on the matter. Smith did not return a phone call.

After the collapse of Abramoff’s lobbying business amid allegations of unethical practices and investigations by the Department of Justice and the Senate, scrutiny of late has turned to his expense-account restaurant, named after the historical documents on the walls that bear the autographs of famous Americans.

In April, reports surfaced that House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s (R-Ill.) PAC did not pay for a 2003 fundraiser at the restaurant — one of at least 60 GOP events held there since the restaurant opened next to the Navy Memorial in Penn Quarter in 2002. More recently, media organizations have been investigating the restaurant’s business practices in search of other improprieties, especially as they may relate to lawmakers.

Even amid the growing din of suspicion, Abramoff held on to Signatures, sources speculate, as one of his only viable means of revenue. But even that appears ready to come to an end now. And more changes are afoot.

The general manager resigned last week, and a replacement is being sought. Executive Chef Morou Outtara, who was recently nominated for chef of the year by the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington for its annual awards, will remain.

But we wonder what this will mean in the long run for the restaurant. Should a sale go through, will fundraisers and networking lunches at Signatures by pols be OK again, now that it’s no longer contaminated by Abramoff’s radioactivity? Or will business suffer now that the Friends of Jack in Congress might not be as inclined to visit?

But then, as The Hill noted in a May 8, 2002, review of Signatures, “Opening a restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and the Capitol is a risky business.”