Question of company

John McCaslin
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Posted: Jan 24, 2006 9:05 AM

"He's taken pictures with many of you." - White House spokesman Scott McClellan, responding yesterday to repeated questions by members of the White House press corps as to why former powerhouse lobbyist Jack Abramoff had his photo taken with President Bush -- as have several reporters, and on more than one occasion.

VIRGINIA SON

Hollywood's most politically active brother-and-sister pair - Warren Beatty and Shirley MacLaine - not only have family roots near Washington, they credit their Virginia upbringing for helping to motivate their political activism.

The February issue of Virginia Living magazine writes about Beatty's and MacLaine's Old Dominion roots (both were born in Richmond and attended Washington-Lee High School in Arlington), given that the former keeps appearing to position himself for a political move.

Don't hold your breath. In 1999, the outspoken Democrat and aging sex symbol - he soon turns 69 - made political waves by expressing his displeasure with party presidential hopeful Al Gore. The New York Times went so far as to say that the actor was considering throwing his hat into the presidential ring.

"There certainly should be someone better," Beatty said of then-Vice President Gore, who in the end lost to Republican George W. Bush.

After trashing Gore, Beatty turned his frustrations on fellow actor and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Indeed, the celebrity's commencement speech last summer to students of the University of California at Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy was more political than philosophical, described as a "blistering" attack on the Republican governor's job performance.

But in a recent interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Beatty downplayed his repeated political meddling as a precursor to running for public office.

"It's important for someone to stick their neck out and say, 'I'll be the antagonist.' I don't know how much I'll do, or at which point I will simply be obnoxious," he said. "But I would feel negligent if I didn't do this. I know that when I want to attract attention, I can. I've been nothing but honest in saying that I don't want to have to run for political office."

That said, when asked if a moment might come when feels he has to, Beatty replied, "(Y)ou've got to leave it open - never rule anything out."

TARGETED BY TERROR

VIP tickets were $1,000 each for Wednesday's Capitol Hill reception at the Phoenix Park Hotel in honor of Nobel Peace Prize winner John Hume, former leader of the Social Democratic Labour Party (SDLP) of Northern Ireland; current SDLP leader Mark Durkan, and deputy leader Alasdair McDonnell.

One of the two main nationalist parties in Northern Ireland, the left-of-center SDLP was formed in 1970, drawing its support mainly from middle-class Catholics. Just last week, Durkan met in Belfast with a delegation of U.S. lawmakers monitoring a seemingly endless Northern Ireland peace process.

"The United States Congress is still very much engaged," said delegation leader Rep. James T. Walsh, New York Republican. "We remain committed to working with Northern Ireland's political leaders to re-establish a devolved government and realize full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement."

And speaking of terror, SDLP Assembly Member P.J. Bradley took the opportunity to tell the lawmakers, who included Rep. Tim Murphy, Pennsylvania Republican, and Rep. Brian Higgins, New York Democrat, about the concerns of undocumented Irish workers in the United States who are suddenly threatened by the U.S. Border Protection Anti-Terrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005.

"I explained . . . the fears of many parents and families, in all of the 32 counties of Ireland, as a result of the threat to their U.S.-based family members," said Mr. Bradley. "I reminded the congressmen that if the (anti-terror) act in its present form ever becomes a reality it will create a break in the 300-plus years' tradition of the Irish traveling to, working in and building America, and in a few generations it will no longer be possible for prominent Americans to refer to their Irish ancestry in their profiles or biographies.

"Given the fact that all three of the visiting dignitaries are of Irish decent, and proud of the fact, I believe they fully understood what I was saying."

Bradley said he was assured by Walsh that the undocumented Irish "were such a minute percentage of the illegal immigrants at which the (anti-terror) act is aimed, that it is, and will remain, difficult to single them out for special attention."

TOUGH DUTY

Last week's trip to Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom for Rep. Tim Murphy was a walk in the park compared to the Pennsylvania Republican's Thanksgiving journey to Iraq.

You might recall that Murphy suffered a cut above his right eye and pain in his neck, arms and back after he and Rep. Ike Skelton, Missouri Democrat, were injured while traveling on a back road to the Baghdad airport. An approaching vehicle had sideswiped their armored minivan, causing it to topple over.

Murphy, who is 53, and Mr. Skelton, the 73-year-old ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, were both hospitalized in Germany. Injuries to the latter lawmaker might have been more severe were it not for fellow Democratic Rep. Jim Marshall of Georgia, who had grabbed hold of Skelton - who has little use of his arms due to polio - as the bus rolled over.

Lara Battles, a spokesman for Skelton, told The Beltway Beat that the congressman remained in his district during this past month's recess and is "now doing fine."

SPANKING COULTER

Outside of divorce court, one normally doesn't draw attention to mean things people say about them. Then again, Ann Coulter doesn't even consider herself normal.

The popular right-wing political commentator has taken four separate insults fired in her direction and is using them to point out why people should subscribe to Human Events, a conservative publication she calls her "editorial home." Without further ado:

- "As a pundit, Ann Coulter is about on a par with Charles Manson." (Eric Alterman, the Nation)

- "She's cute, blonde, mini-skirted, mean as a warthog and somewhere to the right of Genghis Khan." (Caryl Rivers, Women's ENews)

- "Ann Coulter displays all the feminine warmth of a water moccasin." (Gene Lyons, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)

- "Coulter and her brood should be treated like spoiled brats. ... Put them over the knee, paddle their fannies." (Charles Taylor, Salon)

NOW THAT HURTS

Vice President Dick Cheney should take solace that he's not the only American who suffers from gout. Literally dozens of Beltway Beat readers from all over the country have written testimonials to their pain and suffering, most centered in their big toes.

Dr. George W. Marcom of Houston says our allusion to the "King's Disease" reminds him of a celebrated medical story.

"In the 18th century, the British felt the need to be less dependent on the French for imports, and this led to their turning to Portugal for their wine," he educates. "And a favorite, especially for King George, was Madeira port. Madeira port is aged in lead-lined casks.

"The combination of acid and alcohol is a fine way to leach lead from the lining, and as a result George had an ample source of dietary lead, and he did, in fact, develop chronic lead poisoning. His courtesans aped his preference, and the popularity of Madeira port percolated down to the gentry. Since George was the exemplar of the problem, it became known as the King's Disease . . .

"This illness was known to the Romans, they just didn't understand the cause.  They called it Saturnine gout, after the ill-tempered god who ate his own children."