Talk is hardly cheap in the nation’s capital, where a slip of the tongue can be a faux pas forever on the history books or a well-placed soundbite can leave more of a positive legacy. From lawmakers famous for their fiery speech, politicians who stepped in it deep, and a president who played catchup with his veep in the race for eyebrow-raising quotes, here are some soundbites that reverberated around Washington and beyond the Beltway in 2013.
The clear champion
Strategic profanity has a glorious history on the Hill, from Dick Cheney telling Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) “go f*@k yourself” to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) calling the cap-and-trade bill (and many other things) a “pile of s*@t.” In October, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) added his name to that legendary list. When asked at a fundraiser how civility was faring in the Senate, he replied, “There’s no comity with Harry Reid. I think he’s an absolute a*@hole.”
Hearing soundbite of the year
At a May House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on Benghazi, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton angrily fired off the quotes that will be used in the highest-dollar campaign ads should she run in 2016: “The fact is, we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest, or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make?”
Obama’s greatest hits
President Obama earned PolitiFact’s “Lie of the Year” award for his whopper “if you like your healthcare plan, you’ll be able to keep your healthcare plan.” Obama said this 37 times as counted by the fact-checking watchdogs, though repeated it just one time in 2013. The quote that actually got Obama the closest to intervening in an international crisis in 2013 — the Syria “red line” vow — was made in 2012. Perhaps the soundbite that summed up his year came toward the end of 2013, in an early December interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. “The interesting thing about now having been president for five years is it makes me humbler as opposed to cockier about what you as an individual can do,” he said, waxing about how a great president makes a connection with the American people.
The greatest hit award for the commander in chief, though, goes to his quotes comparing a communist stalwart to the Founders at a press availability with Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang in July. Obama said Sang concluded the meeting by sharing “a copy of a letter sent by Ho Chi Minh to Harry Truman.”
“And we discussed the fact that Ho Chi Minh was actually inspired by the U.S. Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and the words of Thomas Jefferson. Ho Chi Minh talks about his interest in cooperation with the United States. And President Sang indicated that even if it’s 67 years later, it’s good that we’re still making progress.”
Best introspective congressional observation
If it’s hard to say that one quote about the sky falling is better or carries greater impact than another, at least you can give the prize to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) for quantity. After regular dramatic addresses from the Senate floor advising Americans to wake up about climate change, Whitehouse’s 52nd such speech of the year segued into a general smackdown of the legislative branch.
“Maybe this Congress just can’t operate as an institution at an intelligent level. Some Congresses are going to be smarter and more responsible than others — that’s just the natural order of variation. Some Congress is going to be the sorriest Congress ever. Maybe we’re it,” he said.
It was clear from being able to forge a budget deal with liberal stalwarts in the Senate that Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has a certain degree of charm in his corner. And that was confirmed by 76-year-old Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), who said of the House bicep curler, “Believe it or not, Paul Ryan is a good friend. He calls me Mom. I call him Naughty Boy.”
Get-off-my-lawn (phone) rant
As soon as the FCC began toying with allowing the use of cell phones in-flight, lawmakers began to riot like the panicked passengers in Airplane! Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) introduced a bill with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to ensure only texts and emails would be allowed after takeoff. “This legislation is about avoiding something nobody wants: nearly 2 million passengers a day, hurtling through space, trapped in 17-inch-wide seats, yapping their innermost thoughts,” Alexander said. “…When you stop and think about what we hear now in airport lobbies – babbling about last night’s love life, next week’s schedule, arguments with spouses – it’s not hard to see why the FCC shouldn’t allow cell phone conversations on airplanes.”
Progressive Caucus quote of the year
This goes to Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), opining on Hobby Lobby’s legal challenge against the mandate to fund contraceptive coverage under Obamacare: “I mean, motherhood is not a hobby. Women’s health is not some arts and craft. I mean, nobody spends more money at the arts and crafts store than I do.”