An Award for Members of Congress Who Try Hardest to Get on Your TV Screen Tonight

From a story on headlined “The Award for Thirstiest Member of Congress Goes to…”:

Hollywood has the Oscars. Broadway has the Tonys. Washington hasn’t had its own awards — until now.

Introducing the Thirsties, a celebration of the quality that defines this place.

You know what we’re talking about: the thirst. That unquenchable drive for publicity, attention, buzz. Call it what you want, This Town is full of it. The thirst can be found in staffers, lobbyists — even journalists, who are supposed to be covering the story, not angling for a starring role in it. To paraphrase a hoary old Washington line on something almost as obscene: You know thirst when you see it.

But nowhere is the thirst more unslakable than among the 535 members of Congress, who every day lunge for the microphone, news camera or tweet button to find a way — any way — to insert themselves into a news cycle — any news cycle — and make it all about them. Even in this crowd, though, a few stand out for going above and beyond.

We gathered the names very unscientifically, mostly via our compilation of look-who’s-at-it-again text exchanges over the years. So, on this holy weekend for official Washington, why not honor them? (We depend on them to do this job, after all.) Ladies and gentlemen, without further ado: the inaugural round of the Thirsties.

Rep. Ritchie Torres, who retweets his own tweets with admirable ferocity, relentlessly sought to leverage the Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) affair to draw attention to himself (including showing up at Santos’ office with fellow junior New York Democrat Daniel Goldman, clutching a copy of the ethics complaint the pair had filed stagily displayed for the cameras to catch) and has sought to use Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-N.Y.) ubiquity to position himself to more moderate and conservative media as the other, more sensible young New York liberal.

Former Rep. Peter Meijer, who voted to impeach a president of his own party immediately after he was sworn into office in January of 2021, happily discussed how courageous it was in a series of glowing pieces with glam portraits and swashbuckling quotes (“To hell with it,” he told one Washington news magazine), lost his primary last year to a MAGA opponent and now is considering a Senate run but won’t rule out voting for the president he voted to impeach.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who lambasted the mainstream media, surrounded herself in the Capitol with a phalanx of aides to avoid questions and did the usual “fake news” attacks before making clear with her cooperation with and promotion of a “60 Minutes” profile what was apparent from the start: that she was like the little boy in school who hit the girl he liked only because he wanted her attention. Double points here because Greene, in a seemingly unintentional homage to the award’s namesake, twice misspelled “60 Minutes” interviewer Lesley Stahl’s first name in a tweet promoting the segment.

Rep. Don Bacon, who hasn’t been in Congress long, but has kept his moderate-dominated seat around Omaha in part by being willing to go his own way — and happily telling reporters why he’s going his own way. Most recently, he was one of the few House Republicans who refused to jump to Trump’s defense after word leaked that the former president would be indicted. As was once said about the late New York City Mayor Ed Koch, Bacon is unavoidable for comment.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who never fails to show up for D.C. parties that are mostly reporters talking to other reporters, for the Sunday shows, which are a harder sell for other lawmakers not named Manchin, and for banquets that most everybody in the capital dreads going to for the seventh time (who really wants to go the Radio and TV Correspondents’ Dinner again?). In an era when most lawmakers, and certainly most senators, would never dream of attending a reception filled with staffers, reporters and hangers-on, Klobuchar stands alone. Former aides have told us they’ve told her she’ll be the only senator there, but that won’t stop her from earning a SPOTTED in Playbook. And this is to say nothing of her talent, immense by even senatorial standards, for shifting every conversation back to her and her pet bill of the moment, like when Jake Tapper asked her about Sen. Joe Manchin’s role in Build Back Better negotiations last February. “Those negotiations are continuing,” she said, before pivoting sharply: “as they are on voting rights. … He is behind the bill that I’m leading, the Freedom to Vote Act.” (Yes, Klobuchar is both namesake and recipient of the award, because she’s singular.)

Sen. Joe Manchin, who, with his willingness to stay on the houseboat over the weekend and come in the studio to make news on multiple shows on the same day, is doing his part in the social media era to make lawmakers, reporters and lobbyists alike watch the Sunday shows rather than just catch clips online later. Ask yourself: What was the last big news-making moment on one of the shows? Yup, it was Manchin in December of 2021 on Fox News Sunday, appearing to torpedo Biden’s Build Back Better legislation by telling host Bret Baier he couldn’t support it. (Not long after, of course, Manchin mostly flipped back and named the bill the Inflation Reduction Act).

Sen. Chris Coons, who has been in the Senate since 2010, but, with a fellow Delawarean in the White House, is jumping on his big chance to maybe snag the role he’s always wanted. Coons, a Foreign Relations Committee member, has made it no secret he’s pining to be America’s chief diplomat, telling some colleagues that the post could be his if there’s a second Biden term. Until then, though, he’s content to get as much juice as he can out of his role as “shadow secretary of state,” in which he’s dispatched to foreign hot spots and put on glad-handing duty with dignitaries, all the while never missing an opportunity to tell a reporter about his close bond with Biden as a result of their shared understanding of “The Delaware Way.” Are you listening, Joe?

Rep. Elise Stefanik, who participated in a spate of soft-focus profiles that heralded her as the newer, fresher face of transparency and progress in the GOP before the party, including her own voters, got aboard the Trump train and threatened to leave her behind unless she got on with them. And boy, did she. In 2019, she saw the impeachment hearings as the perfect opportunity to bust out the New Stefanik, speaking out of turn until she triggered a clash about the rules — “What is the interruption this time?” she asked House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) testily at one point. From there, her tweets and press releases appeared to become maximized for MAGA appeal, following Trump’s capitalization rules and regurgitating accusations that Democrats are pedophiles. Was this hard turn a play for attention or money? Hard to say; her fundraising numbers did skyrocket after the impeachment hearings, but media coverage of her 180-degree turn was no doubt instrumental in convincing the base she was now one of them.

Newt Gingrich, who was elected to Congress, on his oh-so-thirsty third try, in 1978 to represent Georgia’s 6th congressional district and later became speaker. He was run out of Congress after the 1998 election. But here we are in 2023, and Newton Leroy Gingrich, nearing 80, is still on Fox (he did satellite hits from Rome when his wife was ambassador to the Vatican!), cranking out his own podcast, annually adding to his ever-growing stack of books and writing a column that still makes news, like when he warned that Republicans were underestimating Biden. He’s still in the game, dusting off Constitution 101 mini-lectures — he’s a historian, as he likes to remind us — for prime time cable hits, at a time many of his classmates have not been heard from since the Iran-Contra era. Going forward, we might have to name this one the Newt Award.

Speak Your Mind