Members of Congress can't agree on much of anything these days — but on Wednesday, they made an exception for Ben Affleck, lavishing praise on the actor-director for his work in Africa.
Affleck testified before an unusually packed Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the Democratic Republic of the Congo, highlighting his work with the Eastern Congo Initiative, a nonprofit advocacy organization he founded.
Less than a minute into the hearing, Committee Chairman Bob Menendez thanked Affleck, or as he and other senators pronounced it "Aff-lack," for "clearly drawing so much attention" to the issue, saying Affleck will be "long remembered as a serious, thoughtful activist."
And Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, whose wife, Cindy McCain, works with Affleck, had a running banter with the actor, at one point interrupting fellow Republican Sen. James Risch, who was complimenting Affleck on his selflessness, saying dryly, "I can assure you, it's also partially about him."
"That's funny. I've always considered Senator McCain the real celebrity. That's one thing he and I have in common," Affleck shot back, garnering laughter from committee members and attendees.
Affleck is by no means the first celebrity to appear before Congress — George Clooney had staffers trailing him through Dirksen two years ago — in what is essentially a mutually beneficial situation. Celebrities get to tout pet projects and causes, while lending a megaphone to congressional issues that would often be overlooked otherwise.
And despite the, at times, lighthearted interactions — Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts called him a "hometown hero" because of his Boston roots — Affleck and other speakers, including Russell Feingold, a former senator and current special envoy to the Great Lakes region of Africa and the DRC, delved into what could be done to help the African country that has dealt with disease and nearly constant violence as groups fought over natural resources, including gold and copper.
Feingold called on the United States to boost its financial support of the Congo's elections, which are expected to place between now and 2016.
Although Affleck began his testimony to a shower of camera-shutter clicks and some humbleness — noting that "to state the obvious," he is "not a Congo expert" — he did have a handful of suggestions for Congress and the Obama administration.
His proposals ranged from maintaining support for Feingold and Secretary of State John Kerry, whom Affleck met with earlier in the day, to calling on the U.S. Agency for International Development to up its economic development in the country.