Obama Makes Rep. Engel 21 for 21 on Handshakes
He did it - again. For the 21st year in a row, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) shook the president's hand.
Only this year, it was a president whose policies he supports for a change.
Engel has staked out an aisle seat hours in advance each year since President George H.W. Bush's address to a joint session of Congress in 1989. This morning, he snagged an aisle seat at 8:30 a.m. and sat there all day, save for a few bathroom and snack breaks.
Speaking to us by cell phone earlier today from the House floor, he said, "It's an honor to shake the hand of the president of the United States no matter who it is."
But the liberal Democrat conceded, "It's a special treat for me to do it this year." He added, 'It's the office, it's the aura...but it's also the man."
Sure enough, when the president entered the House chamber to deliver his address, Engel got his presidential handshake. And he got a little more face time on Obama's way out.
So did dozens of others who clamored for the aisles, many wielding pens and programs of tonight's speech for the president to sign.
Engel said he wasn't particularly crazy about the name we have chosen to give to his club - the Handshake Hogs.
"No, I'll have to come up with something," he said. "I don't like hogs."
Other members of his club who were right down there on the aisle this year included, among many others: Reps. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas); Barbara Lee (D-Calif.); Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.); Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.); Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio); and Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio).
More intriguing - Obama exchanged words with Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who raised eyebrows early this week by escalating an unfounded Internet rumor that the president is not a U.S. citizen.
It was unclear what the nature of their conversation was. But Obama put his hands on each side of the senator's broad shoulders and said something in body language that could have been interpreted as a mini-lecture.
Mary Ann Akers
February 24, 2009; 10:50 PM ET
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