03/05/2015 02:59 EST | Updated 05/05/2015 05:59 EDT

Capitol Hill Buzz: Snow grinds Congress to halt - except for a Senate hearing on the Arctic

WASHINGTON - Congress may have fled town ahead of a snowstorm, but the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee didn't let that sabotage a scheduled hearing on — drum roll, please — the Arctic.

With falling snow providing a suitable backdrop, senators heard testimony on economic, environmental and other issues in the far north from the State Department's special representative for the Arctic, Admiral Robert J. Papp Jr., and officials from Alaska and elsewhere.

Was it coincidence that the intrepid committee, which plowed ahead with its hearing on a day when most Capitol offices were shuttered — is led by an Alaskan, Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski?

Unclear. But for good measure, Murkowski announced that she and Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent, were forming the Senate Arctic Caucus, an informal group of lawmakers — call it a circle? — who want to focus attention on the region's economic and strategic significance.

Lest the impression be left that Thursday's hearing was only for those accustomed to wintry weather, one lawmaker who slogged through town to attend was Hawaii Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono, who wore her attendance as a badge of courage.

"I think those of us who are here should get a gold star for showing up," she said.


House Speaker John Boehner isn't the only one on Capitol Hill facing a bunch of rebels.

Despite failing to get permission from congressional officials, scores of residents of the community around the Capitol flocked to the building's slopey West Lawn on Thursday for an afternoon of sled riding in the shadow of the famous Dome.

Around lunchtime, around 100 parents, children and assorted others were flopping onto plastic discs, old fashioned wooden sleds and other objects. The ride wasn't much — after all, despite Capitol Hill's name, the West Lawn's slope is very gentle and there was only around 4 inches of snow on the ground — but it was far better than spending yet another snow day cooped up indoors.

"This is our neighbourhood. This is the biggest hill on the Hill," said Lyndsey Medsker, who works in public affairs and helped organize the outing.

Medsker, who was sledding with her children Atley, 5, and Finley, 4, tweeted right from the Capitol's grounds to tout her neighbourhood's accomplishment.

"And this, folks, is victory," she wrote under a picture she posted of the sledders enjoying themselves. She used the hashtag #SledFreeorDie.

In a snowy way, the sledders' insurrection seemed to parallel the repeated mutinies by conservatives that often confront Boehner, the Ohio Republican, inside the nearby building.

The District of Columbia's non-voting delegate to Congress, Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton, wrote to Capitol Police officials on Wednesday, asking them briefly lift the grounds' sledding ban to take advantage of the late-winter snow.

That was turned down by Frank Larkin, the Senate sergeant at arms who heads the Capitol Police Board, citing security concerns that made the area "not your typical neighbourhood hill or playground."

Yet by early afternoon, the sled riding was unimpeded by Capitol police officers, who maintained their usual posts around the building.

"I'm hoping that common sense and a kind heart are ringing through," said another sled rider, meeting planner Jason Petty, in explaining why the authorities had — well, let things slide.

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