Inside the Beltway: A brief tale from Beverly Hills

Behold, a passing cultural moment: An interested party contacted Inside the Beltway to point out that former Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Alejandro Mayorkas were classmates at Beverly Hills High School in — where-else? — California, members of the Class of 1977.

President Obama has nominated Mr. Mayorkas, currently director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, for the second-in-command slot at the Department of Homeland Security, despite an ongoing inspector general’s investigation probing the possibility that the nominee had attempted to finesse special entrepreneur visas for some politically connected Chinese investors.

Then we have Mr. Abramoff, the former uber-lobbyist who served more than three years in prison for fraud, tax evasion and corruption of public officials; he has written a memoir titled “Capitol Punishment.”

The pair were proverbial big men on campus in their time.

Consider that Mr. Mayorkas is a member of the opulent high school’s “Hall of Fame,” right along with fellow Hollywood alums Richard Dreyfuss, Albert Brooks and Betty White. He was co-captain of the tennis team and junior class president.

Mr. Abramoff was an extraordinary weightlifter and quite fond of organizing spirited charity events. These days he publicly advocates for ethics reform and teachable moments. One of his first stops: a Beverly Hills High School assembly.

“Corruption permeates Capitol Hill,” Mr. Abramoff told the capacity crowd last year. “But a couple things to remember: don’t break any rule, and try not to do anything that you would be embarrassed about if it was filmed and shown on the evening news — or put on YouTube.”

THE UNDISPUTED LIE OF THE YEAR

Determining the “Lie of the Year” was a clinical decision by some precise researchers at Politifact, the Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checking arm of the Tampa Bay Times in Florida. And here is the lie of the year: “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it,” uttered by President Obama. A lot.

“We counted dozens of times that President Obama said that if people liked their health plans, they could keep them. It was a catchy political pitch and a chance to calm nerves about his dramatic and complicated plan to bring historic change to America’s health insurance system,” says Angie Drobnic Holan, Politifact’s editor.

“But the promise was impossible to keep. So this fall, as cancellation letters were going out to approximately 4 million Americans, the public realized Obama’s breezy assurances were wrong. Boiling down the complicated health care law to a sound bite proved treacherous, even for its promoter-in-chief,” she continues. “Obama and his team made matters worse, suggesting they had been misunderstood all along. The stunning political uproar led to this — a rare presidential apology.”

Such reasons made the phrase a winner, and readers in a separate online poll overwhelmingly agreed with the choice, Ms. Holan adds.

RIDGE VS. MCCAUL: CLASH OF THE TITANS

There are a lot of big, empty desks at the Department of Homeland Security these days. So says Rep. Michael T. McCaul, Texas Republican and House Homeland Security Committee chairman.

“Over 40 percent of the department’s senior leadership positions are either vacant or have an acting placeholder. This means nearly half of the top positions at the third-largest department in the U.S. government are not filled,” Mr. McCaul said at a hearing that examined the effect on morale and operations.

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